Putin’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine 16 months ago has wreaked havoc on our continent. First and foremost it has been a humanitarian disaster with US intelligence reports estimating that around 350,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or injured and more than 9,000 Ukrainian civilians have lost their lives, including 500 children. I have been heavily involved in imposing sanctions against the Kremlin and have helped many refugees reach our constituency. Each has their own story and many are extraordinarily harrowing.

In addition to the immediate devastation in Ukraine, the war has had a massive impact on the global economy, particularly in Europe. Energy and food prices have risen and this inflation has hit many local families hard. The government has stepped in with significant support (on average providing £3,300 of help per UK household), primarily through energy bill support and direct payments to millions of low income households, those with disabilities and pensioners. As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions I also fully uprated benefits and the state pension by inflation.

To bring inflation down, the Bank of England has increased interest rates – the main lever at their disposal to dampen demand for goods and services and bring prices down. But this is not without consequence. Around a quarter of properties are owned through a mortgage and those who have needed to renew in the past few months may be paying hundreds of pounds a month more than they were previously.

The latest market indicators show these rate rises are yet to result in huge numbers of households falling into arrears. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reported 0.86% of total residential mortgage balances in arrears in the first quarter of 2023 which is lower than pre-pandemic levels and significantly lower than the 3.32% rate in 2009. But we are doing all we can to help and the Chancellor has been proactive in securing an agreement with the financial regulator to support people where possible. The measures include:

Permitting customers to switch to an interest-only mortgage for six months, or extend their mortgage term to reduce their monthly payments without a new affordability check or affecting their credit score.

Preventing customers from having their homes repossessed within 12 months from their first missed payment.

Offering customers approaching the end of a fixed rate deal, the chance to lock in a deal up to six months ahead and apply for a better deal until their new term starts.

Ensuring anyone worried about their mortgage repayments can call their lender for information and support, with no impact on their credit score.

Supporting customers who are up to date with payments to switch to a new mortgage deal at the end of their existing fixed rate deal, without another affordability check.

Providing well-timed information to help customers plan ahead, should their current rate be due to end.

 I would strongly urge anyone struggling with their mortgage repayments to contact their lender as soon as possible to discuss their options.