Cost of Living Goes Through the Roof

In a world of rising prices, the UK’s 10% inflation rate is higher than any other ‘rich’ country and from all accounts set to rise. Domestic gas prices have gone up by 95% in the last 12 months, and electricity by 54%. Both will rise further in the autumn, when millions of families will once more face the dilemma of whether to “eat or heat”. Almost a quarter of adults are now reporting it’s difficult for them to pay their household bills. Food costs are up and rising, with more and more families using food banks. Child poverty is up. Rents are up. Wages and benefits, however, are not.

Changes to Universal Credit mean 35% of claimants will now get less money. The worst hit are those with disabled children and those with the lowest incomes. Nine million households on means-tested benefits will suffer a £500 cut per year. Couples with children will lose £720. Little wonder that there is so much demand for food banks. Many are reporting that their stocks are low and some have run out of food to give.

Official figures and the financial press point to ‘market forces’ driving up wages in sectors with labour shortages following the upheaval of Covid. The truth is earnings as a share of GDP have been falling for decades but today they are falling at their fastest rate this century. For most workers there is no prospect of their wages matching inflation. Despite all the lip service paid by the government in the pandemic, NHS staff have seen all the applause turn to a kick in the teeth. Nurses now get 7% less than they did twelve years ago. Midwives get 10% less, hospital consultants 12% less, while ambulance workers face “real term” pay cuts. Other sectors are also worse off. The most experienced teachers have seen their pay fall in real terms by 9%. They’re also dealing with crisis levels of kids in poverty. Many report having staff-room collections to feed hungry kids in their class.

Not everyone’s in the same boat of course. Aside from our exploiters on their luxury yachts there is also a discrepancy amongst wage workers. The highest paid are enjoying bumper pay rises, largely due to a bonus boom, especially in finance and real estate. For most of us, though, the coming months will be tough. And as ever, those at the bottom of the heap will be hardest hit. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that poorer households face an overall inflation rate of 10.9%. Already the price of lowest-cost food has increased, in some cases by 10%. In other words, the poverty gap that’s been widening for years is now set to increase dramatically.

That said, there is no doubt that the overall quality of life for most of us is rapidly declining. Apart from the 2 million people now living with long Covid, millions more are facing delays to medical treatment. Less than 10% of men will reach retirement in good health while one in five women pensioners already live below the poverty line.

For some, it’s all down to Tory greed and mismanagement. It’s true that the Tories are staggeringly unfit to manage anything except lining their own pockets. Their policies amount to viciously attacking workers while pretending to defend them so they can bash away at the ‘red wall.’ So far, "Levelling Up" has amounted to nothing beyond a few trite slogans from successive ministers spouting empty promises.

The government itself blames knock-on effects of the pandemic. Or the war in Ukraine which has affected petrol prices and is causing global food shortages. Some even whisper about the own-goal effects of Brexit (the Brexit divorce bill has just jumped by £10 billion). All of these have played their part. But none of it fully explains why the crisis is so deep. Or why it’s global.

The truth is, the ruling class don’t control their own system. Capitalism is like a runaway train heading for the void over a cliff. And no one in the whole capitalist spectrum, from far right to far left, has an answer. All they can do is come up with ever more inventive ways of blaming our class while making us pay for it all. And when we refuse to do so, they are already preparing for how they’ll fight with the gloves off. Along with many other restraints, the massive Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act allows the police to shut down and criminalise public demonstrations for being too noisy, including even a protest by a single individual. Meanwhile Priti Patel has quietly empowered special constables to carry tasers for the first time. And whatever else this government has failed to do, they now boast embarking on the largest prison-building programme for a century. This is the future capitalism has in mind for us.

Time to get serious about our alternative: a world without profits and dividend payments but where everyone’s basic needs — and more — are guaranteed.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 60) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.