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Cold, hunger and fear are the face of this cost of living crisis

The TUC union federation's national demonstration on 18 June is a chance to rage at the Tories and cost of living crisis
Issue 2803
The cost of living crisis is hitting hard

The cost of living crisis means choosing between heating and eating (Pic: Guy Smallman)

An avalanche of evidence is showing the human cost of surging prices and the falling value of pay, benefits and pensions. It reflects millions of people facing cold, hunger, fear, illness—and possibly death. “By next winter, hundreds of ­thousands of prepayment ­customers will be unable to afford to access energy for extended periods of time,” predicts Matthew Copeland, head of policy at National Energy Action, a fuel poverty charity. 

“People are going to die from this if they can’t heat their homes to ­adequate temperatures.” He says people are already ­turning off gas and electricity because they are terrified of high bills. “We often see older people with bus passes going on a journey and coming back simply because being on a bus is warmer than being at home,” Copeland said.

The must-buy item this season is not some fashion item but Aldi supermarket’s electrically-heated jacket. It’s designed so that people don’t have to heat their homes but can instead wear clothing that warms them up. About four in ten British ­households are finding it difficult to pay for gas and electricity and a similar ­proportion are buying less food. 

That’s according to the first ­figures from the Office for National Statistics covering the period after the 54 percent rise in the cap on energy bills last month. People in the core working-age group—those aged 30 to 49—are ­cutting back most, with a higher share reporting that they had to borrow money, and slashing spending. 

That may be because people on benefits and pensioners had already cut their spending to the bone.  Worse is coming. Bosses of the big energy firms recently told MPs of the “totally horrific” consequences if the price cap rises from £1,971 to the expected level of £2,600 in October. They are nervous that huge ­numbers of their customers will not be able to pay their bills, which will be a threat to the companies’ profits.  

By the autumn, the company Eon expects up to 40 percent of its customers to be in fuel poverty—­spending more than 10 percent of their income on energy bills.  This week a Bank of England key committee was widely expected to raise interest rates. That will mean higher mortgage payments and ­landlords passing on the cost in rent rises. 

Such outrages have to be a spur to much more resistance, including a big turnout at the TUC union’s ­federation national demonstration in London on 18 June. Activists have to push for this protest has to be launchpad for the resistance.  What’s needed are waves of big strikes, national action and coordinated action, and major campaigns against disconnections, evictions and poverty. That means confronting the Labour Party leaders and many trade union leaders as well.

We Demand Better demonstration, Sat 18 June, assemble 10.30am, Portland Place, London, march leaves 12 noon, rally 1pm, Parliament Square. Details and transport at bit.ly/TUC1806


Desperate Tories are trying to dodge the heat from scandals

As ordinary people feel the pinch, the Tories scrabble around to continue their rule of cruelty—and chaos. Those who prowl the corridors of power aren’t worried about whether they can afford to heat their homes. They’re concerned about who is going to find out they’ve been quaffing champagne—or worse.

Senior government figures are preparing themselves for the next round of revelations coming from partygate investigator Sue Gray. The Sunday Times newspaper reports that top civil servants knew they were breaking the law when they organised parties during strict Covid-19 restrictions.

This flies in the face of the weakest denials of serial lockdown party guest Boris Johnson.

One source told the paper, “The most shocking thing Sue’s report has uncovered is a series of emails which expose the extent to which the parties were premeditated and the rules were wilfully broken. She is also concerned by the lack of contrition shown by those who have been found to have broken the rule.”

Gray’s report is set to be completed when all investigations by the Met have finished. And the cops are delaying any more public information about partygate fines until after the local elections this week. Meanwhile, the Tories are closing ranks after one of their own was exposed as watching porn in parliament. Tory MP Neil Parish resigned after news broke he was caught watching porn twice.

Beyond farce, vile Parish claimed one of the occasions was accidental as he was searching for a tractor website. Sleazy Parish claimed that, despite being caught red handed, “I have 12 years in parliament and probably got one of the best reputations ever—or did have.”

Initially he tried to cling on to his post as MP, while his conduct was investigated, but stepped down on Saturday after public outcry continued to grow.  Top Tories are scrabbling around to make excuses for the rampant sexism in Westminster. 

Some, such as business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it was becauce MPs “are working in a really intense environment, there are long hours”. Others, such as defence secretary Ben Wallace placed the blame on the “overall culture of long house, bars and people under pressure”.


Public sector workers suffer most as pay is falling fast

Wage deals in the public sector, directly under government control, are even worse than those in the private sector. Data from the research group XpertHR, published last week, showed the average public sector pay increase was just 1.4 percent in the year to March 2022. That’s less than the private sector average of 2.2 per cent for the same period. Most importantly, both are far behind the nine percent rate of inflation according to the most accurate RPI index.

Meanwhile, the annual NHS staff survey reveals rising discontent among its workforce of 1.3 million. There is a big drop in the proportion who are satisfied with their pay, would recommend their workplace to others, or feel valued and able to exercise autonomy at work.

Treasury guidance to the pay review bodies that will soon set out recommendations for two million public sector workers is that pay growth should retain “broad parity” with the private sector. But it adds pay “rises” should also be “affordable” and compatible with the two percent inflation target. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has said this implies a headline pay award of at most three percent for NHS workers—in other words, a six percent cut. There will also likely to be big real term pay cuts for nearly all school workers.


Cancer patients can’t pay 

Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are at risk because they are forced to cut back on meals, heating and other essentials as a result of soaring prices. The charity Macmillan Cancer Support said it was “hugely concerning” that large numbers of people living with the disease were having to resort to drastic cost-cutting measures.

Some recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy are sleeping in cold bedrooms to try to keep energy bills down. Others are washing their clothes and bedding less frequently or skipping meals.  About one in four people with cancer in Britain—almost 750,000 people—say they “can’t afford life at the moment.” 

Christopher Jones of the support line at Macmillan Cancer Support, said, “We used to hear about people choosing between eating and heating, but now we are hearing from people who can’t afford either.”


Danger in corner cutting

The callous Tory cabinet last week held a special session to discuss how to deal with the crisis.  Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, proposed moving car MOT tests from once a year to once every 24 months, saving a few pounds at the risk of increasing the number of vehicles that are not safe on the roads. 

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested increasing the maximum number of children an early‑years worker can be responsible for. Slightly smaller bills, but a worse service for children and for workers. Of course no windfall tax on the energy giants, no renationalisation of privatised utilities, no increase in taxes for the rich and the corporations.

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