Sir Keir Starmer said people feel “trapped” by the cost of living crisis and called on the government to deliver “strong action” to help those struggling.

In a visit to Worthing, the Labour leader spoke to a group of residents, business people and students when he dropped into a cafe along the seafront.

Among them were two teenagers who recently got their A-level results after studying at Bhasvic in Hove.

Although Anna-Maria and Ruby both want to study law at university, they plan to take a year out of education to work due to the financial cost of higher education.

Anna-Maria said: “Almost everyone I know now is taking a gap year to work to save up to afford it.

“In past years I think people’s parents could help out a little bit more but everyone is struggling with the cost of living crisis.”

Sir Keir said he would not have been able to afford to study at university today - but refused to explain how Labour would change the current tuition fee system.

Speaking to the students he said: “When I went to Leeds to study law the cost of living crisis wasn’t anything like it is now. If I was in your shoes now I don’t think I would be able to go.”

He also said that would-be students are being denied opportunities due to costs and that aspiration among young people is being “choked off”.

He also spoke to the owners of two small businesses who said margins had been severely cut and they were hesitant to pass on increased costs to customers.

Barrie Reading, owner of the Coast Cafe in Beach Parade, Worthing, left Sir Keir aghast when he said his company’s energy bills had soared from £800 a month to £4,000 a month.

He said: “We saw our profits drop literally by half last year and we’re massively struggling.

“We’re absorbing so much with the cost of living. I think you’re going to see a lot of businesses go under.”

Sir Keir, however, would not commit to a cut in VAT for small businesses which Barrie said would make a big difference to him.

A single mother said that butter had become a luxury due to rising costs at the supermarket.

The woman, who lives in Durrington, told the Labour leader: “You can see the prices rising almost daily. It’s stressful and you’re trapped in the situation.”

Sir Keir told The Argus: “People from all walks of life in Worthing feel trapped by a government that is failing to protect them. They think that this has gone beyond the here and now, the day to day damage, that the cost of living crisis has gone into a longer-term throttling off of ambition and opportunity for young people.

“There is a frustration and an anger now at this government - 13 years of failure - and I think their message to the government is ‘time’s up’.”

Sir Keir said Labour had a “positive plan” to grow the economy and ease the pressure people across Sussex and the country are facing.

He said: “We’ve got to get to grips with the cost of living crisis - that means strong action on energy and not just a sticking plaster. It means pushing the economy on so it grows in all places, particularly in places like Worthing. It means grappling with the housing crisis.

“It means long-term, mission-driven government that understands what people are going through, holds those people in its eyes as it makes decisions and absolutely fixes the fundamentals.”

Sir Keir also called for a renters’ charter to help those struggling in the private rental sector as well as a longer-term strategy of house building to bring rent prices down.

He said: “We need a renters’ charter that gives better rights to renters - that’s the short-term framework that we need to give protection to those already in rented accommodation.

“We’ve also got to fix the longer-term problem. The reason rents have gone through the roof is because this government is not building enough houses. We’ve got to get to grips with the fundamentals here and build more houses.”

Sir Keir’s visit to Worthing was briefly interrupted by a protester who shouted “get out of Worthing” while holding a sign that said “Starmer the Tory not welcome here”.

Worthing is among several key targets for Labour at next year’s general election, with the party hopeful of ousting the town’s two Conservative MPs Tim Loughton and Sir Peter Bottomley.

The next general election is expected to take place some time next year, with political pundits predicting voters may go to the polls either in May or the autumn of 2024.

Current polls forecast Labour will gain five seats from the Tories in Sussex, namely Crawley, Hastings and Rye, Mid Sussex and both Worthing constituencies.