By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2792

Debt, hunger and fear—even before the big attacks hit

People are turning off the heat, going hungry and taking out emergency loans
Issue 2792
Protesters in mask with large banner "End fuel poverty"

Protesters at Downing Street last week made clear poverty is already very real (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Rapidly rising living costs, cuts in pay, benefits and pensions and soaring fuel prices are plunging more low paid workers into desperate situations.

Research by the Living Wage Foundation think tank showed people are increasingly turning to payday lenders and going hungry. A survey of 1,700 workers showed that one in five were forced to take out a payday loan and around two in five were regularly skipping meals.

It’s a damning look at the reality of Tory Britain—even before the fuel price rises and tax increases scheduled for April.

Katherine Chapman, Living Wage Foundation director, said, “Our polling paints an unsettling picture for millions of people as rising living costs compound the challenges of two years of the pandemic.”

She called for a pay rise for “people that kept us going during the pandemic like cleaners and security guards”.

Dave Innes, head of economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said, “It is deeply worrying that so many low-paid workers are already skipping meals and taking on debt.”

He warned that a projected rise to 7 percent in the official inflation rate in April means that “people on low incomes, who spend a higher proportion of their income on essentials, are at the sharpest end of the crisis.”

In addition to debt and hunger, around a third of workers also reported they couldn’t afford to keep their homes warm this winter. This crisis is set to be compounded by the astronomical rises in energy prices in April.

Energy expert Professor Alex Kemp said global increasing demand for gas meant that prices aren’t set to fall any time soon. He criticised “broad brush” strategies, such as those adopted by chancellor Rishi Sunak, as insufficient to tackle fuel poverty.

Sunak’s is offering an insulting £200 energy loan, which will do nothing to offset the real burden faced by ordinary people.

“Any further interventions should try to target low income households,” said Kemp. With further energy prices looking likely, Kemp said action was needed to “avoid a significant fuel poverty problem”.

But such means-tested support, although it might help the very poorest, would do nothing for workers on average wages who will also be hit hard. Sunak’s plans are not a “broad brush”, they are no brush at all.

And bosses are already threatening to raise prices in order to protect profits. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) bosses’ club said its survey of 1,000 businesses revealed a “cost of doing business crisis”.

Some three out of four respondents said they are planning on raising prices and half are cutting costs.

BCC director general Shevaun Haviland said bosses were faced with “a nearly impossible situation that will leave them with little choice but to raise prices”. But really it’s workers, not bosses, who are the ones left with few choices.

Meanwhile the Labour Party and trade union leaders sit on their hands instead of mounting a serious movement to oppose these horrendous attacks.

Protests this Saturday, called by the People’s Assembly and other campaigns, could be a flashpoint for fury at the poverty and misery dished out by the bosses and Tories. Socialists should get on to the streets and join the fightback.

  • Join the protests on Saturday, for details go here

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