Britain must do more to help poor with cost of living crisis, Asda chairman says

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People shop at a supermarket in London

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government needs to do more to help those on lower incomes cope with the cost of living crisis and should cut VAT sales tax, the chairman of supermarket group Asda told the BBC on Wednesday.

Soaring food prices pushed British consumer price inflation to a new 40-year high last month of 9.1%.

Stuart Rose, formerly the boss of retailer Marks & Spencer and a veteran of the British retail sector, said the economic crisis was of similar proportions to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government needed to act.

"The fact that the government seems to be saying that nothing will happen until next year in terms of either taxation or in terms of further help I worry about a little bit because that's a long time away," he said.

"So I would urge them to do more and I would urge them to do more for those people at the bottom end of the earnings income scale and I would do something which is pretty effective, something like VAT reduction would be helpful."

Last month, the government announced a 15 billion pound ($18.3 billion) package of support for households struggling to meet soaring energy bills.

But Rose said that was not enough.

"I know the government is very reluctant to put its hand in its pocket again because it's built up a huge amount of debt following COVID," he said.

"But at the end of the day we did it once, this is a crisis of similar proportions and people could be affected for very much longer than COVID affected us. So I think this is the time for them to re-think it."

Rose said shoppers were increasingly trading down and shopping to a limit.

"They say 30 pounds ($36.70) is my limit and if they get to more than 30 pounds, that's it, stop, it's the same with petrol, it's the same everywhere, big ticket is definitely not on the agenda," he said.

Industry data published on Tuesday showed British shoppers were swapping branded items for cheaper own-label products and turning to value ranges to help manage grocery inflation.

The data echoed comments from market leader Tesco on Friday.

($1 = 0.8181 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton and Jason Neely)

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