The cost of living crisis in Britain is spiraling out of control. The rise in food and energy bills is quickly outpacing the disposable incomes of thousands of families, forcing them to make impossible choices between heating their homes, buying groceries or setting aside money for their commute.
According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), more than 250,000 households across the country will already be in “poverty” by next year — bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to a staggering 1.2 million — if the government is not taking immediate action to help needy families.
It didn’t have to be. Think tanks, activists, opposition politicians and frankly anyone with any understanding of the myriad struggles facing Britain’s working-class communities have long urged the Tory government to reverse its post-Brexit social security cuts. increase universal credit and a small, one – abolition of cash payments to those who need it most to prevent poverty from skyrocketing in one of the world’s leading economies.
Unfortunately, the government has chosen to do the exact opposite. For example, in October 2021, as the country was still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, it cut universal credit payments by £20 ($25) a week, leaving many vulnerable Britons unable to keep their accounts to pay and eat on their table.
And in April, when skyrocketing energy prices made the already devastating crisis even more urgent, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it would be “silly” for the government to provide more aid to struggling families now. Despite households across the country facing an average increase of £700 ($879) in their gas and electricity bills immediately after April, with a new peak of 50 per cent in October, said Sunak – whose family is more than £700 million ($879 million worth) – said he won’t act until he “knows what the situation will be in the fall”.
Today, Sunak is criticized for not acting fast enough to address the cost of living crisis. He points to the so-called ‘discount’ on the £200 ($251) energy bill that he arranged for UK households to receive on their bill in October. However, as many have repeatedly pointed out, this is not a “subsidy” but a “loan”, meaning that from 2023 people will be forced to pay it back to the state – in other words, whatever delay the “discount” may offer now will be canceled once the government demands it back a few months later.
Earlier this month, after the Office for National Statistics revealed that inflation reached 9 percent in the year to April — the highest year-on-year increase in more than 30 years — Sunak said: “Countries around the world are experiencing rising inflation… We cannot fully protect people from these global challenges”.
There is no denying that it is not just Britain that is currently facing a cost of living crisis. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the conflict in Ukraine, several challenges came together to brew a perfect storm, increasing the economic vulnerability of the world’s poorest communities.
Yet it is also unfair to deny that our current administration has a particular disinterest in helping the poorest and most vulnerable in society. And this is causing the British working class and the poor to suffer more than their counterparts in other developed economies in this time of global economic turmoil.
In Britain, full-time nurses say they depend on food banks to feed their families.
In Britain, retirees say they sit on the bus all day, every day to keep warm, because they can no longer afford their energy bills.
In Britain, new mothers say they skip meals to buy their baby’s formula.
And this is not a problem that affects only a few unlucky ones. The Trussell Trust, an NGO working to end the need for food banks in the UK, said food banks in their network distributed 2.1 million emergency food parcels from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022 – an increase of 14 percent compared to the previous year. Eight hundred and thirty thousand of these plots were intended for children. In this country, according to research by the Food Foundation, “about one in seven adults lives in a home where people have skipped meals, eaten smaller portions, or went hungry all day because they could not afford or have access to food.” ”.
Despite all this, the government leaders behave as if all this suffering is inevitable. Worse, they argue that the desperate situation many of us working-class Britons find ourselves in is our own fault – a result of our perceived inability to live our lives efficiently.
Recently, Conservative MP Lee Anderson argued in the House of Commons, without a hint of irony, that food banks are mostly “unnecessary” because the main cause of food poverty is not actual poverty, but a lack of cooking and budgeting skills.
While his tone-deaf comments drew much condemnation from the public, opposition MPs and campaigners, his conservative colleagues rushed to back him, demonstrating that they share his misguided views on food poverty.
Member of Parliament Brendan Clarke-Smith, for example, wrote a full op-ed for the Daily Express newspaper explaining why Anderson’s abusive comments about food banks were actually “completely correct.” Meanwhile, MP Jacob Rees Mogg – who once claimed food banks are “quite encouraging” for showing what a “compassionate” country Britain is – said he wouldn’t have made Anderson’s comments, but only because he “cannot cook himself.” “.
The cost of living crisis in Britain is undoubtedly part of a larger pattern. Nevertheless, millions of working-class Britons are not struggling to heat their homes and feed their children in the world’s fifth largest economy simply because of ‘global challenges’.
They are struggling because this country is being led through this crisis by a party whose members have nothing but contempt and contempt for the poor.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.