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Letters—are blackcurrant pickers living in the lap of luxury?

Benefit payment rises do not match the huge rise in inflation
Issue 2801
Tesco supermarket aisle

Tesco’s prices are up, and so are its profits (Flickr/ Adam Fagen)

Everything is going up but my benefits. That’s what it feels like anyway. Last week I was delighted to find my benefits—my sole source of income—were going up £5.42 a week. That was a rise of just over 3 percent. But everyone knows that prices are going up much faster than that. I’m not sure even the official figures of a 7 percent or 9 percent rise capture the reality. I have been keeping a careful eye on how prices have gone up in my local Tesco store. A bottle of basic washing-up liquid went up this year from 33p to 41p.

That’s a rise of nearly 25 percent. Even worse, a bottle of squash that used to cost £1 is now £1.75. What possible combination of factors could have caused this rise of 75 percent? Are blackcurrant pickers—or those who run a picking machine—living in great luxury because of mega pay rises? I rather doubt it. Are the farmers who grow the fruit celebrating huge rises in the price they receive for their crops? I bet they’re not. I’m sure there are lots of very clever reasons for these increases. But I can’t help noticing that Tesco bosses last week announced a profit of £2 billion for 2021.

While everyone was scrambling for stuff during the pandemic, Tesco was coining it in. As always, developments in the economy are presented as outside human control. It’s just how it is and there’s not much we can do about it. But what would happen if big shops were told they couldn’t put up prices above a certain amount, say 5 percent a year? Their profits would shrink but there’s not much they could do about it. I’m sure Tesco and the rest would be pleading poverty. But the result now is that ordinary people are pushed into poverty. It’s a political choice.

Gil Henriques


Victory in Wigan on green fight

Glenbrook developers thought that they could spend £31 million developing warehouses on 40 acres of green space in Ashton, Wigan. But we have stopped them. Our Keep Ashton Green campaign showed how this would affect climate change and wreck biodiversity. We had regular stalls, support from trade unions and the trades council for the biggest climate change march in the town’s history. We lobbied the council and gained support by doing door to knocking on estates and gaining support from the local MP. The council officers recommended the proposal go through so we filled the public gallery and the councillors rejected it.

This was a victory for people before profit. Danny Fletcher, a local councillor, said, “I have never been more proud to represent my home town. The whole Ashton community came together to fight this proposal. The Keep Ashton Green (KAG) group’s purpose has been to stop this proposal from happening. Over the past 16 months we have gathered over 440 individual objections and over 3,000 members joined our KAG campaign group. Our campaign has been a shining example of what collective community endeavour can achieve, and we are ready for any appeal from Glenbrook.” Every victory to defend the environment encourages us to build the resistance to go further.

Malcolm Jones


After Tory party scandal it is time for an election

Millions of workers took real risks during the pandemic to keep the country and its people going. They included health workers—like me—teachers, cleaners, shop staff, delivery drivers and many others. We stuck to the rules around the pandemic even when they were hard and forced us to suffer awful conditions. Now we find out that the two chancers Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were partying the night away in Downing Street. 

They broke the law and I couldn’t care less whether Johnson now says he apologises for what he did. It’s all a sham. We can’t let them get away with this. Why do we have to wait years to deliver our verdict? It should be up to the country to decide if they get to keep their jobs in a general election.

Lorraine Bradley


Home office is an anti-refugee machine

In the middle of last week, only a quarter of the 12,000 Ukrainian refugees granted British visas had actually made it here. Asked to explain why, home secretary Priti Patel replied, “Any new visa system takes time”. But Britain has accepted far fewer Ukrainian refugees than other countries. Germany has opened its doors to 300,000 and Ireland 20,000. According to Patel this is because “Germany is an EU country”. This explains nothing. 

Faced with the refugee crisis, most European countries have put humanitarian considerations before bureaucracy and have waved visa requirements. The truth is that under Patel, the home office has been weaponised against refugees. Patel has built her career on creating a hostile environment for refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants who she views as criminals. Patel’s home office is an anti-refugee machine and it doesn’t have a reverse gear. Patel is treating Ukrainian refugees with the same inhumanity she has treated refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

Sasha Simic

East London

£50 fine is insult to us

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson only paid £50 fines for breaking Covid regulations. Just £50 for endangering lives. Meanwhile, we cover the cost of investigations—Met Police, Sue Gray Report and so on. Why is it not recovered from Johnson and other offenders?

Hannah Brown

East London

How did we lose at P&O?

Another P&O Ferries vessel was detained last week after the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said inspectors had found a “number of deficiencies”. The service is in chaos. How is it possible that the Tories and the bosses got away with 800 sackings? The union movement has to ask itself some harsh questions.

Eric Bates


Trans bigotry has effects

The mental health of transgender people in Britain is at crisis point, professional bodies and support groups told the Guardian newspaper last week. This is the result of systematic bigotry and divisive state assaults. Vicious words and policies have effects.

Nadia Payne


Labour can’t back Ofsted

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson was met with heckles and chants during her speech at the NEU union conference last week. She made positive comments about the Ofsted inspection regime. Phillipson said, “To be supportive of inspection is not to believe it cannot be better.” But many delegates rightly see Ofsted as a bunch of bullies whose inspections lead to sleepless nights and stress with no reward for students or teachers. No wonder they shouted that Ofsted was “not welcome”.

Marina Hossain

North London

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