Britain’s richest ever MP will deliver his Spring Statement today. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is husband to a billionaire and estimated to be worth more than £200 million himself—what a time to have our economic policies designed by a representative of the super-rich.
In Parliament, he will talk about how he ‘understands’ the dire economic situation facing millions of families. He will say we all have to make ‘sacrifices’. He might, like some of his colleagues already have, even blame the cost of living crisis on Putin’s horrific war. But you can be sure he will do almost nothing to help.
This isn’t because the cost of living crisis is a force of nature, beyond the control of our politicians. While factors such as surging global fuel costs are exacerbating it, the scale and intensity of the hardship facing so many is the direct result of political choices.
The government could act decisively today to help people through this crisis and avert misery, deprivation, and poverty for millions of people. It chooses not to.
Let us not forget that even before the present crisis, 14.5 million people were living in poverty, including 4.3 million children. In 2010, 60,000 parcels were handed out at food banks—last year it was 2.5 million. A decade of Conservative austerity had seen Britain experience its longest peace-time squeeze in living standards since the Napoleonic wars.
But presiding over a viciously unequal economy with growing rates of poverty and hunger wasn’t enough for the Tories, and the political choices they have made in recent months are simply guaranteed to make the cost of living crisis far worse.
A devastating blow was inflicted on six million working-class households last autumn, when the government slashed Universal Credit by £20 a week in the biggest overnight social security cut since World War II. Then, last month, it gave the green light for energy bills to soar by 54 percent—up nearly to £700—and voted for a 3-4 percent real-terms cut in pensions and social security payments.
Next month, as bills rocket and inflation erodes wages, the government is hiking National Insurance, hitting low paid workers the hardest. Unfortunately, we already know where all of this will lead.
The number of people taking out debt relief orders for personal insolvency has jumped 61 percent in just a single year. This is no surprise—the number of families struggling with large debts increased by a third in 2021 alone. How appalling will these numbers look in the weeks and months ahead?
But that will be far from the only social scandal. Housing charity Crisis has estimated that homelessness in England will rise by one third by 2024 because of the cost of living crisis and the government’s complicity in it.
I see this with my constituents. Nearly 3 in 4 constituents already report higher energy and fuel bills, with more than half facing higher food and transport costs. One local dad recently spoke out about how he is having to skip meals for days on end just to feed his daughter.
None of this needs to happen. Action could be taken, but this Conservative government is desperately trying to shirk responsibility. In recent weeks, ministers have spoken about ‘enduring hardships in solidarity with the Ukrainian people’. This is a blatant attempt to shift blame away from their own policies, and it should make people furious.
If anyone should be making ‘sacrifices’, it is the likes of Rishi Sunak. During the pandemic, the wealth of Britain’s billionaires skyrocketed by £106.5 billion. It now stands just shy of £600 billion in total. While households see energy bills spiraling out of control, fossil fuel giants BP and Shell make an average of £85 million in profits every single day; BP’s CEO even called their business ‘a cash machine’.
Enough is enough. Working people must not pay for yet another economic crisis. If someone is to be squeezed, it must be the wealthiest—not those already struggling to pay their bills.
I call on the Chancellor to take five actions today to avert a disaster which could plunge millions into poverty in the months ahead:
- Cut energy bills: The energy price cap is set to jump by a whopping 54 percent in April, rising to £1,971. There are predictions it could rise as high as £3,000 in October. As an urgent measure, the government should reintroduce last year’s energy price cap and pay for this with a windfall tax on fossil fuel giants. That’s just the start: to address this long-term crisis we must plan to insulate homes, invest in renewables, and bring energy companies back into public ownership.
- Scrap unfair tax hikes: The National Insurance increase will hit the lowest-paid workers hardest while allowing the wealthiest escape this crisis scot-free. That is an obvious injustice. This tax rise should be ditched and replaced with a wealth tax on the richest: a 10 percent tax on wealth over £100 million alone would raise £69 billion.
- Support higher wages: Millions are languishing in poverty pay and rising inflation is eroding the spending power of pay packets. This can be tackled with a substantial increase in the National Minimum Wage. We must make it a truly living wage by moving to £15-an-hour by the end of this Parliament—and bringing forward a real-terms public sector pay rise.
- Rebuild workers’ rights: The disgraceful treatment of P&O workers is just the latest example of why our economy is so unequal. Greedy bosses take advantage of Britain’s pathetically weak workers’ rights to exploit their employees. The only way to change this is by beefing up protections: repeal the anti-trade union laws, ban fire and rehire, and introduce collective bargaining across the economy.
- Strengthen social security: 12 years of Conservative austerity has shredded the safety net and now the government has even abandoned their pensions triple-lock promise. We need a social security system that treats everyone with dignity and respect. As a start, the government should reintroduce the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift and extend it to all legacy benefits, support a real terms increase in social security payments and pensions, and enshrine the right to food in law.