Ministers discuss winter preparations amid NHS pressures and high energy bills

Ministers discussed “preparations” for winter at Cabinet, Downing Street said, against a backdrop of NHS pressures and stubbornly high household bills.

Waiting times in the health service and energy security were among issues on the agenda at the Tuesday meeting.

The NHS, which usually faces increased demand with the onset of colder weather, currently has a record 7.6 million in England waiting for treatment.

Meanwhile, energy bills are expected to remain high for millions of people amid a reduction of Government support, despite the energy price cap falling slightly.

G20 summit
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak remains confident in his plan to halve inflation, Downing Street said (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Giving an account of the meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Cabinet then discussed preparations across departments ahead of the winter months.

“The Prime Minister said he was proud of the way that the Government has responded well to the past couple of winters, which have faced the distinct challenges of Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay provided an update on NHS resilience and capacity for winter while Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho spoke about efforts to “bolster energy security” through building on renewable energy and increasing the capacity of gas storage, the official said.

Energy regulator Ofgem said the new cap on a unit of gas and electricity would reduce the average bill to £1,923 from October 1, from £2,074 per year.

The average customer with a prepayment meter will see their bills fall to £1,949 per year.

Average annual gas and electricity bills remain high by historical standards, with the same costs for a typical household in winter 2021 standing at £1,277.

The meeting came as official figures showed the pace of wage growth has caught up with price hikes for the first time in nearly two decades despite rising unemployment.

Regular pay excluding bonuses rose by 7.8% from May to July, but the figure is an average across the economy, meaning not everyone will see their wages increasing by that amount.

It will come as a relief to many cash-strapped households who have struggled amid a lengthy cost-of-living crisis but also likely reinforce concerns among Bank of England policymakers over stubborn inflation.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister remained confident that his target to halve inflation would be met following the release of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said for “real wages” to grow sustainably “we must stick to our plan to halve inflation”.