UK inflation has soared to a 40-year high, piling pressure on the Tory administration to act fast to help struggling households amid a brutal cost-of-living crisis.

Rishi Sunak was criticised after insisting he cannot “protect people completely” from the poverty emergency as business groups, charities and opposition politicians urged him to immediately cut taxes and increase state support.

Consumer Prices Index inflation reached 9% in the year to April, up from 7% in March, the Office for National Statistics announced. It was the fastest measured rate increase since records began in 1989, and the ONS estimates it was the highest since 1982.

The Bank of England has a mandate to keep inflation below 2%, but governor Andrew Bailey claims he is helpless in the face of global pressures, including a spike in energy costs and the war in Ukraine. Brexit has also been cited as a major contributing factor to the UK's economic woes. 

Sunak, who was accused of offering "warm words" instead of concrete action, said: “Countries around the world are dealing with rising inflation. Today’s inflation numbers are driven by the energy price cap rise in April, which in turn is driven by higher global energy prices.

“We cannot protect people completely from these global challenges but are providing significant support where we can, and stand ready to take further action.”

The Chancellor has pledged around £22billion support, including £9bn to deal with household energy bills and measures to mitigate the impact of April’s rise in National Insurance Contributions (NICs).

The National: QUESTIONS: National Insurance rises

READ MORE: Tory minister 'surprised' to hear about 'apocalyptic' rise in food prices

However, he faces calls to act immediately, rather than waiting for the autumn budget, with inflation set to increase further this year.

Reports have suggested that measures including increasing the warm home discount by up to £600 to cope with rising energy bills are under consideration.

SNP MPs, meanwhile, have urged the Treasury to follow the Scottish Government’s lead by increasing social security benefits and introducing a child payment.

The Times suggested that the package to help with energy bills could be unveiled in July followed by tax cuts in the autumn.

The newspaper reported that Sunak was plotting a 1p cut in income tax from April 2023, a year earlier than planned.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at charity Action for Children, said: “These grim figures make clear that more and more families are starting to run out of road as they face inflation at its highest level in a generation, spiralling energy bills set to rise further and an entirely inadequate benefits system.

“They need help with meeting basic living costs now, not warm words hinting at action in the future.”

The SNP's shadow chancellor, Alison Thewliss, said: “There can be no more delays – the Chancellor must act now.

“The cost of living crisis is spiralling out of control, fuelled by Brexit, and is driving millions of families into absolute poverty – yet Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson seem hell-bent on doing nothing.

“Right now, there are families across the four nations who are skipping meals. This should not be happening in 2022.

“Not only that, the poorest in our society are also being disproportionality impacted as a result of the crisis, with those on the lowest income facing inflation rates as high as 10.9%. This is unacceptable."

She demanded an emergency budget, including a range of measures to help struggling households. The SNP MP told the Chancellor to convert the £200 energy loan into a grant, scrap the National Insurance hike, reverse the annual £1040 cut to Universal Credit, introduce a Real Living Wage, reduce or remove VAT on household energy bills and follow the Scottish Government’s 6% uprating of benefits.

“Failure to do so could, quite literally, condemn millions of families to a decade of misery," she added.

The Confederation of British Industry said it was “critical” for the Government to examine ways to help people facing real hardship and support vulnerable firms.

The British Chambers of Commerce called for Sunak to reverse the rise in NICs and give businesses a VAT discount on their energy bills.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves demanded a full emergency budget with Labour set to force a vote on the issue later on Wednesday.

She said: “Today’s inflation data will add to the worries families already face as prices soar and pay packets are crunched.”

LibDem Leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Families and pensioners on the brink need saving from soaring inflation but this Conservative government is nowhere to be found.

“We need an emergency VAT cut now to slash prices at the till and fuel pump today.

“The warning lights are all flashing red and Boris Johnson hasn’t a second to lose.”