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[Transcript] Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts puts users’ questions to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

You can find below the full transcript of the chat between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts. Discussion thread here

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Apr 28, 2022

Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to answer Mumsnetters questions


Rishi Sunak:

Great pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

We’ve had literally hundreds of questions on a huge variety of issues, and we’ve picked the ones which are the most representative of the issues our users really care about. So, the ones that came up a lot. Without any further ado – because I know how busy you are, we’ll get straight to it.


So first up, the questions, I'm going to use usernames and they're a bit weird.


The first one is from Hipopopoptimus - I couldn't imagine what it's like to live a life in your very privileged financial position. How can you have the understanding and empathy about what it’s like to struggle, and is it morally right for so much wealth in this country to be held by so few people?


Rishi Sunak:

I'm sitting here with you talking about all of this, having this job as a result of so many people's kindness, hard work, sacrifice throughout my life, I didn’t start like this. My grandparents emigrated to this country decades ago with very little, and built a life for themselves, and my parents carried that on and wanted to work hard and give up a lot to give me and my brother and sister a better life. That was how I was raised, that was how I was brought up.


So, yes of course, now I’m in a fortunate position, but I didn’t start like that, that’s not how my family started, they put a lot in and gave that, as I said for me and my brother and sister. I never forget the values that I was raised with and actually what I then try and do is express those values through the work I do in this job.


And I’m working day and night as I have done through the pandemic and beyond to make a difference where I can, that why I got into politics actually, because the country has done an enormous amount for me and my family, it's my way of trying to use all the things that have been given to me to make a difference.


People, I think, hopefully can judge me on my actions. I will always say I don't judge people by how much money they have in their bank account. I look at their character, their values and how they're acting, and people can saw what I did during the pandemic with things like furlough, how we tried to get the country through that, and that's what I'm doing now and that's what I'm focused on, trying to help people manage through some of the challenges that we are seeing with rising prices. And I'll never forget where I came from and the values that I was raised with. And that's ultimately the thing that hopefully will make the difference.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Thank you. From Mumsnet user DonQuixotedelaMancha: Given you are the first Chancellor in our history to have been fined for a criminal offence and not resign. Do you think previous ministers who have resigned over matters of honour were fools?


 Rishi Sunak:

It wouldn’t be right for you to comment on other people's decisions, which of course I would respect. And in my own case, I've always believed that I was acting within the rules, and people know and I came to a meeting in the Cabinet Room, as I do pretty much every day. But obviously the police concluded that I had breached the regulations. I accepted that finding, and I apologise deeply for it to everyone.


And in terms of what I'm doing now, I'm focused on the things that we just touched on and I'm sure we'll get on to as well, which is trying to help this country get through a challenging period, making sure we're creating the jobs that people need and helping them manage some of the prices that they're seeing, I’m working day and night at that, and that's the task ahead, and it's an important one, and that's what I'm committed to doing.



Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Okay. Thank you. From QuentininQuarantino: The IMF has downgraded the UK growth forecast to the lowest in the G7 and stated that across the Eurozone, other governments are doing far more to minimise the impact of the cost of living crisis on ordinary families. Why is the UK the outlier here?


Rishi Sunak:

So I've just got back from Washington actually, where all these IMF meetings were taking place, and to put it in context, what they've done is actually downgraded everybody's outlook for the world in fact, because all countries are grappling with the rise in prices that we're seeing higher inflation.


Right now, actually, at the moment, inflation in the Eurozone or in the US is higher than it is here in the UK in the month of March that we have figures for. So, these are global challenges that everyone is fighting against and we're no different in that.


Now in terms of that growth forecast specifically, I think that's right. If you look at that one specific year that they're focused on. But actually, the picture is much better than that. If you consider the fact that last year, we were the fastest growing, this year with the second fastest and after next year after everyone's caught up with us, actually, because we've been at the front.

We’re again, second fastest and then the fastest again. And over the period we perform really well.


So I think actually, if you look at it, people should feel confident and they shouldn't think, oh gosh, there's something wrong. They should feel actually much more optimistic about the situation economically from that perspective relative to our peers, the economic growth is actually, over the period, good relative to peers.


And where we are definitely an outlier compared to the Eurozone is in employment, and so my focus has always been jobs and I talk about that in one of my earliest interviews I had in this job, I said, I'm going to be focused on protecting people's jobs, helping them find new ones if they lose them. Because I've always believed that's the best way to help people build a life for themselves, support their family, particularly now with challenges on prices.


And if you look at our unemployment rate now, it's back to very low levels, 3.8%. Look at the unemployment rate in those Eurozone countries like France or Italy and Spain. It's two or three times that level. I mean, significant difference here with the performance we've had, and particularly in youth unemployment, which has always been important to me, making sure our young people always have the best possible start in life. And I was really worried during the pandemic because they worked in the industries like hospitality that were particularly impacted. And youth unemployment in this country now is again back below, it’s lower than it was before the crisis, which is an amazing result. I'm really proud of that.


Again, look at what's happening in France, Italy or Spain. You've got almost a third of people, young people unemployed in those countries, that's the difference. So it's a very stark difference here versus those Eurozone countries when it comes to jobs and employment, which I think is the best way and the most sustainable way to help people.



Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Okay. Thank you. LemonSwan asks: We’re in a Midlands town. We are in our early thirties and expecting our first child this week. When we first found out we were expecting we did the maths, we thought it's tight but doable, but with the cost of living skyrocketing, I'm now getting very concerned, and I say this as someone who felt quite well-off a year ago in comparison to my peers.


If we are going to struggle, then I'm seriously concerned for those on low wages who have less disposable income to deal with rising costs. What are your plans for helping young families in particular?



Rishi Sunak:

Yeah, well, I think, first of all, I didn't catch the name from that.


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:



 Rishi Sunak:

First of all congratulations on expecting your first child this week. So that's exciting, I remember what that felt like. So, I hope they have better luck with sleeping and breastfeeding than we did in those early days. But, you know, it's such an exciting time in someone's life and actually it's families like that was why go into politics? And I have relatively now young kids, not that young. So, helping families like that through some of the challenges they face is what motivates me in this job every day.


And I know things are tough right now of course they are, as we were just talking about, they're tough. They’re tough in lots of countries. And I want to do what I can to make a difference to families like that. There are a few things we've done that I think will make a difference.


For example, you know, raising the national insurance threshold by more than it's pretty much ever been raised, meaning the first £12,500 you earn will be completely free, won't pay a penny of income tax or national insurance, is an enormous tax cut for 30 million people in work which I think you’re saying they are, that's worth £330.


We've cut fuel duty for the first time in a long time in about the largest amount ever again for those people who are reliant on their cars to get around, particularly probably going to baby classes and all the rest of it and parent groups, then that's helpful. And again, it's just keeping money in people's pockets.


But also the £9 billion of support we announced to help with energy bills, which is starting to hit right now with £150 rebate off most people's council tax bills. And so, some of the things that I think will make a difference to that family and lots of others.


But actually, the question made me think about something else as well. I think a lot about the people in this situation and there's probably two things that are underappreciated. Now, I'm asked to do tons of stuff all the time and people are always saying, well, why can't you do this? Why can't you do that?  Your first question or second question, and one of the simple reasons is because there's a limit to how much we should be borrowing as a country. And I think the family there is talking about having a mortgage and being a homeowner, like many others.


Now, I'm really conscious that I don't want mortgage rates to have to go up any more than they're already going up. Now, if governments at a time like this borrow lots and lots more money and we're already borrowing quite a lot, our own interest bill is ticking up. What that does is it risks interest rates having to go up even more. And that will just add to pressure for people with mortgage payments to make. And I want to make sure that we're careful that we don't do that, and I don't make the problem worse. So that's why I can't always do everything that people want because it actually might make the situation worse, particularly with those on mortgages, with rising interest rates.


But the other thing is because I care about the future, right, that young little baby that's about to arrive into that family, you know, my kids, everyone else's kids that are listening or watching. I care about them a lot. I care about the future. And so, every time someone says, we'll do this extra thing, which means borrowing some more money to do it, what are we doing? That's all our kids. That's this new little one that we're saying we can't deal with this problem ourselves, so we'll borrow the money and leave it to that little baby and my kids and everyone else's kids and grandkids to pick up the tab. And I don't think that's right.


So that's why, you know, difficult as it is for me sometimes to say, no, we can't do everything, we have to pick and choose and prioritise. I don't do it because I'm being mean, or I don't want to do it. I'm doing it cause I'm trying to balance what's right for our kid’s future as well, and what's right for our country long term.


And I think actually, if we think about it, we all do that in our private lives. We're thinking about how do we provide a better life for our kids? That's what my parents did. I'm sure that that family is going to. I do the same as well. And that's why actually not borrowing huge amounts and just passing that tab on to our kids is the right thing to do.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Right. But one of the ways as ChiswickFlo said that you could raise some more money is to tax the energy and fuel companies more as other countries have done. Why are not doing that?


Rishi Sunak:

So the first thing to know is we already do. And I think people don't necessarily know that. So, most companies pay around 20% in their corporation tax. The energy companies pay double that, they pay 40% already.


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

They’re making huge profits, aren’t they?


Rishi Sunak:

So they're paying 40% already. Yes, they are, and some of them are now making, not all of them, some of them are now making more profits. And it does of course, it sounds appealing and great, one’s taxing bad energy companies more, that will solve all our problems.


Now, the reason that we haven't gone down that road is really simple. Now we're quite lucky in this country in that we've got quite a lot of energy here in the UK. And I think what we realise is we need to invest more in that and that's why we haven't gone for some extra tax, because what I don't want to do is discourage investment in our own energy supplies because we want to improve our energy security so we're not reliant on importing lots of things from abroad.


And in the short term, you know, we're going to need things like gas and oil, but over time we will phase them out and we want to get to net zero by 2050. But in the medium term, we need to rely on these things. So, we'd much rather, I think all of us can agree, have those resources from home. And what I don't want to do is put off the investment that's required to exploit those resources, create those jobs.


And we've just seen actually from one of the large companies, they're investing, I think, £25 billion in energy in the UK over the coming years. That's an enormous investment. That's great for the economy, that's great for British jobs and families around the country, particularly in Scotland. And it's also great for our long-term energy security. So that's why we haven't gone down that road, because I don't want to put off investments like that.


But what I'd say is, look, if we don't see that type of investment coming forward and if the companies are not going to make those investments in our country and in our energy security, then of course, that's something I would look at and nothing's ever off the table in these things. But right now, what I believe the right thing to do is to encourage those companies to invest so we have more energy security and support the economy.

 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet

Okay. Thank you. A LittleMissLego says: I'd love to know your thoughts on food banks. Why has demand for emergency food parcels risen so significantly over the last decade, and over the next five years do you foresee our need for food banks rising, remaining static or dropping?


Rishi Sunak:

Is that LittleMissLego, yeah like lots of my weekends.


Food banks are actually (inaudible) obviously emotive and also quite a complicated issue because as a politician and as the Chancellor, I obviously want there to be less food banks. I didn't want people to have to use them. But on the other hand, you know, and I see in my own constituency, I'm really grateful for the public spiritedness of people and charities and community groups that offer them and make sure that they're there for people, so that's how I think about them.


And now I'm glad that if you look over the last ten years since the coalition government and beyond, the number of people living in absolute poverty has gone down by over a million, which is good. Because of all the various things that have been happening, there's over a million fewer people, even after housing costs, are living in poverty, and that includes hundreds of thousands of children as well. So that's good progress, right? It reduces the need for people to rely on things like food banks.


And there's a few other things specifically we're doing to help people meet food costs. Probably three in particular, I point out, because maybe not all your audience will know about them. And the first one is there is something called Healthy Start vouchers. So for pregnant mums or indeed mums with very young kids, you can get up to £8, I think, £8 or £9 a week from memory for vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables. And if you're on various benefits and welfare. So, it's not a programme that everyone knows about. So healthy start vouchers, people can look that up.


And the second thing is the Breakfast Club programme, which is being rolled out across thousands of schools across the country and for schools to offer breakfast clubs. To kids, which we know has an impact on their learning and is great.


And then the third thing is something called the Holiday Activity and Food Programme that we created last year and we're spending £200 million a year on, and what that does for those children on free school meals during term time, it provides several weeks of both food and activities during the holidays and all three holidays.


So those are the types of things that we're doing that will help make a difference with, particularly food costs.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

And do you think demand is going to go up?


Rishi Sunak:

Well, I would hope that it does in the same way that I think we've been reducing the number of people in poverty over the last few years quite considerably. And we've got interventions like these that we've invested more in, so that all those programmes I just mentioned are things that we have invested more in over time, and they should grow over the coming years to provide that support for people.


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Okay. Thank you, JenniferAlisonPhilippaSue says: Disabled people such as myself are particularly struggling. We have equipment that keeps us alive that we need to have plugged in constantly or on charge. It's costing us more and more money just to stay alive and not get sick. And disabled people who work from home like myself will have to use assistive technology to do so. And again, this is just electricity. Will you give any more support to disabled people for their bills? 


Rishi Sunak:

Well, I mean, firstly to say, I see it, my own constituency when I'm talking to my constituents is that it's not always easy for people who are not in that situation, to recognise some of the challenges that those who are disabled are facing. And, you know, the benefit of being a constituency MP is just being able to listen a lot and learn from people's experience.


I think the other thing that comes from that is when it comes to people with disabilities, is whether it was wrong to lump them all in one group actually, because everyone has quite different challenges that they are grappling with, even though they will come under the banner of being people with disabilities. Those are the first couple of things to say.


Now, in terms of things that we can do to help, I think energy bills, was mentioned, as we talked about the £9 billion of support that is already out there that we've put for energy, we said we'll see what happens with the price cap in the autumn. Now, I know people are anxious about this and wondering if they're going to go up even more.


And I've always been clear from the beginning that we'll see what happens. And then depending on what happens to bills, then of course, if we need to act and provide support for people, we will of course. I've always said that, but it would be silly to do that now, or last month or the month before when we don't know exactly what the situation in the autumn is going to be. So, I'd say we'll see where we are with that if we need to do more. And then the other things that we're doing. I'm sure there was many names Jennifer….?


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:



 Rishi Sunak:

She was working and that's brilliant because that's one thing we want to do a really good job of is making sure people can work with their disabilities. And we're spending a billion pounds, over a billion pounds over the next few years over this parliament to support those with disabilities into work, which is great.


And then they will benefit from the tax cut that we talked about coming in July. The raising of the national insurance primary threshold is an extra £330 for most taxpayers. So that will help, which is great.


And we're doing other things as well, like improving something called the Disabilities Facilities Grant, which, when I see my own constituency, lots of people with disabilities, want to be able to live independently in their own homes. And actually, we have a fund that means we can make adaptations, improvements to their homes to support that kind of living. And again, we're putting more money into things like that as well. So, there's a range of different things.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Thank you. Daphneorvelma asks What steps is the government taking to ensure affordable childcare is available for new parents who wish to return to work? I'm thinking particularly of parents of children under one or two to whom some of the current childcare policies, e.g. the free hours do not apply.


Rishi Sunak:

Yeah, so I know that this is such a challenge. I have young kids and one of the great successes we've had over the last several years is being able to support more women to work who want to work and balance that with childcare because they disproportionately are the ones that are impacted by this. And if you look at our track record on this relative to most other countries and actually relative to our history, it's good in being able to enable exactly that.


Now we have three different, I guess, schemes in place, and they're not always well understood, although your person there does understand them. It's probably worth just running over them to make sure people are aware of what's out there.


So, for those on Universal Credit, so those on lower incomes, actually, the system reimburses 85% of all childcare costs, up to about £13,000 from memory. So, there's a huge amount of support for those on the lowest incomes as I said to reimburse almost 100%, 85%, of all their childcare costs up to this quite generous £13,000. And so that's for those people. And that applies, I think, universally for all ages.


And the second thing which is as I think she was saying, we have these various policies in place to provide free childcare, 15 hours for those 3 to 4 year olds, an extra 15 hours make it 30 if parents are in work, and then another 15 hours for disadvantaged families with two year olds. So that starts to get into that area that I know people are interested in.


And then that takes you back to the third bucket, which again would apply I think to many of your audience is something called tax-free childcare. This is the one that I'd love to spend 30 seconds on because we constantly find people aren't aware of the benefit of this. And it’s there to help people.


And what this means is when you spend £8 on childcare, the government basically tops up with two quid and that's worth £2,000 per child per year. And that again goes all the way up to teenagers.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

I could have made this whole chat about how this system isn't actually quite working as well as it should – If we could talk to you about that at another stage.


Rishi Sunak:

And I know I accept that. And I think the first instance, we do have this thing that is providing people with up to £2,000 per child per year in tax free childcare, and we know that it's not taken up as much as it should be. And one of the things we're working on is how do we improve that? So I'd love actually to get your suggestions on how do we improve the operation of it. 


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet: We’d be happy to do that.


Rishi Sunak: But those are the different things we have in place that help support people.


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

So, the Tories and Labour seem to be taking quite a different approach to discussions around sex and gender and the importance of biology in relation to things like single sex spaces and women's sports. It's obviously something that's massively important to lots of our users.

So, we don't want to, you know, there's no gotcha question here, but I wondered if you could give us just your take on how to respect both women's rights and trans rights, respecting both groups. What's your take on that?


 Rishi Sunak:

No, it's a really important question. I think, the way to do that is to have both compassion and respect. And I think you need to have compassion for those that are thinking about their identity and thinking about what that means for them, their families, and what that if, as they're going through potentially a change, and we need to be compassionate and understanding about that.


And we also have to have respect. We have to have respect in particular for people's views, but particularly those views, I think, of women who are anxious that some of the things that they fought really hard for, and their rights that are important to them, would be eroded as well. And we need to have respect for that point of view. So that's my kind of general take.


And I think in some of the specific, what does that practically mean? You know, when it comes to questions like toilets or sports, you know, I'm of a view that, you know, biology is important, is fundamental. It's critical to how we approach those types of questions and that should be how policy is reflected in that.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

So you share the PM's view I think on what he said. That question…



Rishi Sunak:

Absolutely yes.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

That question was from selseywilhemina by the way, it wasn't my question.


Rishi Sunak:

Yeah, I know I absolutely do. And I think biology is critically important as we think about some of those very practical functions like toilets or sports.


 Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Last one because everyone's waving fingers at me. And so from Justfivemoreminutesplease, do you think Boris and his cronies were behind the leak of your wife's tax affairs? I do, she says.


 Rishi Sunak:

I don't.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Okay. Thank you. I can't go without a last question. A hardy perennial on Mumsnet. Your favourite biscuit.


Rishi Sunak:

Oh, right. It's actually one of these ones. Yeah. These Maryland cookies are my favourite. This is earlier than I normally have them in the day. So this good news for me.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Take them home and have them all…


Rishi Sunak:

I will, thank you. I have one of those most days actually with my…people always like to take the mick out of me for my Peloton that I use. But the reason I have to use this Peloton is because I'm constantly eating either cookies or cake most days.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

20 minutes peloton, five cookies, something like that


Rishi Sunak:

Well, actually, if that's the ratio, I can eat more cookies, I thought it was worse than that. But good.


Justine Roberts – CEO Mumsnet:

Thank you so much for taking the time, much appreciated.



Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts puts users’ questions to Chancellor Rishi Sunak