It feels as though, at long last, we might be approaching the end of Covid-19 restrictions, with the prospect of normality feeling increasingly less farfetched. But the sense of relief accompanying the potential end of the pandemic is rapidly being eroded by the seriousness of the cost-of-living crisis currently blighting our communities.
Despite Boris Johnson’s assurances that worries about inflation were “unfounded”, families are feeling the pinch. Millions of households have seen their energy bills hiked, with consumer price inflation surging to the highest level since the early 1990s.
We always knew that as demand spiked after lockdown, inflation would follow – no matter what the Prime Minister might have said. Instead of rubbishing warnings about what was to come, the Government should have been planning for it.
Pay simply isn’t rising at anywhere near the level of inflation, so when inflation is considered, families are being squeezed by a real-terms pay cut. And with a new energy price cap set to come into place by April, it is expected that the number of families suffering “fuel stress”, defined as spending 10% or more of your income on energy bills, will treble to 6.3 million.
This crisis will hit left behind areas like Bradford, where almost half of children in my constituency live in poverty and 15% of households already live-in fuel poverty, the hardest, tightening already strained purse strings.
The Government are asleep at the wheel; either unaware or unbothered about the impact this crisis is having around the country. Not just because they are occupied by the mounting scandalous revelations surrounding “party-gate”. But because of their refusal to ask those with the broadest shoulders to pay their fair share.
Labour proposed a one-off tax on the excess profits of energy companies who are benefiting from these exploding prices. This Windfall Tax would have raised £1.2 billion, funding a £200 average reduction in bills, and included an additional £600 of targeted support for those most in need.
Yet the Tories voted down this proposal, showing once again, when a choice can be made between shielding families from market failures or letting corporations off the hook. It’ll be ordinary people footing the bill whilst massive companies laugh all the way to the bank.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady in response to the crisis has argued that “Ministers must give unions more power to go into workplaces and negotiate better pay and conditions, give our public sector workers a decent pay rise, and get the minimum wage up to £10 an hour immediately.”
In place of these practical suggestions purposefully designed to reduce the burden on families, what have the Conservatives got to offer working people? A £12 billion tax rise, and as if that wasn’t enough, a cut in pensions, both of which break Conservative manifesto commitments from the last General Election.
This just isn’t good enough; the British people deserve better than a Prime Minister mired in controversy and an invisible man Chancellor who’s been missing in action since the going started getting tough.
This cost-of-living crisis may not sound as sexy to the tabloids or provoke emotion in the same way as the Downing Street party scandals. But to struggling families, with further tax and bill increases looming. The impact of inflation outstripping pay to such a worrying extent, alongside brutal cuts to Universal Credit, really cannot be understated.
And the energy companies know this. Just last week Ovo Energy was forced into issuing a shameful apology after advising customers, cuddle pets and eat porridge to save money on energy bills.
Fuel poverty forces households into making decisions such as whether to eat or heat on a given day- choices nobody should be making in one of the richest countries in the world.