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Hunger Is a Political Choice – And Sunak Has Made His

Last year, millions of people across Britain faced food poverty as queues at food banks reached record levels. The cost of living crisis will see those numbers grow – and the Chancellor's failure to intervene is a national disgrace.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, holds the budget box as he departs to deliver the October 2021 Budget, at 11 Downing Street. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Yesterday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Spring Statement to the House of Commons. As he did so, it quickly became clear that the Chancellor has ignored the poorest people in our society. Income tax changes, National Insurance changes, and solar panels won’t help the people who have emailed my office at the end of their tether worrying about how they can stay afloat.

With no increase to benefits to support poverty-stricken families facing an ever-worsening cost of living disaster, and inflation rising twice as fast as welfare and pensions, it’s hardly surprising that many opposition MPs were left asking ‘is that it?’ as Sunak finished. This was a Spring Statement formulated by a billionaire, who will never lose a wink of sleep over how to put a meal on the table for his family—and how clearly that showed in the chamber.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says that real household disposable incomes per person will fall by 2.2 percent in 2022/23, which is the largest fall in a single year since ONS records began in 1956. We have the biggest tax burden in seventy years, and the biggest hit to household incomes on record. This government is simply not committed to helping those most in need.

Earlier this week, I led a delegation of Right To Food Campaign supporters to Downing Street to hand an open letter to the Chancellor urging him to make provision for a Right To Food. With signatories including MPs, Lords, trade unions, medical professionals, Labour mayors, town and city councils, faith leaders, charities, and Liverpool, Everton, and Millwall football clubs, the desperate cost of living crisis faced by approximately eleven million people in the UK clearly matters greatly to many parts of society. It is the government, and specifically the Chancellor, who are out of touch.

Rishi Sunak lives in another world. He doesn’t have a clue how ordinary people are struggling. And now he has left households, families, and businesses to fend for themselves in the middle of a crisis causing the biggest hit to household incomes on record.

In the chamber on Wednesday, I asked Sunak when, with millions of people choosing between starving and freezing in their homes, the penny will drop that hunger is a political choice—and that it is he who has the power to eradicate it. His response, to refer me to the government’s Holiday Hunger Fund, tells me once again that Sunak, the richest man in Parliament, does not have a clue how people live out in the real world, beyond the trappings of Westminster. And he certainly does not care.

I once again extend my offer to Sunak to come to Liverpool to witness close-up what it means to live in poverty in Britain in 2022.

On Monday evening, I spoke in a debate in Parliament on the impact of the cost of living crisis on pensioners. I talked about the thousands of 1950s-born women in my West Derby constituency who are affected by changes to state pension age—who were paying in with the expectation of a set retirement date, and had that taken away from them without proper notice. I spoke about the harm this has caused, and read out emails from women describing the huge disruption to their lives, wellbeing, work, and plans for themselves and their families. The cost of living crisis further exacerbates this, and the Chancellor has once again ignored our 50s-born women seeking restitution.

By trying to be seen to help everyone, Sunak has ended up helping no-one. His choices have made this crisis worse, not better. The most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society have once again been failed by ruthless Tory ideology.

My constituents needed real help from Sunak to get through the worst cost of living squeeze many of them can recall. But the Chancellor has utterly failed to support the people hardest hit: people on benefits, and poor pensioners. As the Resolution Foundation has pointed out, half of the benefit from the rise in tax threshold goes to the richest.

We have a right-wing government at the very worst juncture in our recent history, with no empathy nor understanding of what is unfolding in our communities. The coming period will be brutal for working-class people everywhere who will have no extra income or savings to protect them from this crisis.

I fear we are heading into a crisis not seen for over a century, and we must be ready to fight back. A united, strong, and radical socialist movement offering an alternative to the status quo has never been more important. Instead of tinkering around the edges, we need systemic and far-reaching reform through the introduction of radical measures, including:

  • Enshrining the Right To Food into legislation;
  • Inflation-proofing incomes, including social security benefits and pensions;
  • Reinstating the £20 Universal Credit uplift, and extending it to legacy benefits;
  • Cancelling the National Insurance and income tax increase;
  • Bringing utilities back into public ownership;
  • Taxing capital gains at the same rate as earned income;
  • Introducing a wealth tax; and
  • Investing in Green Growth.

How the Labour and trade union movement reacts to this crisis will shape its future. We have to be relevant, immersed in our communities and our workplaces, because we are needed. We must be at the heart of the solutions, forging a vision and a path that offers hope as we build a coalition to change a system that is completely and utterly broken.

Yesterday, a Tory Chancellor made a political choice to allow millions of people to be cast into hunger and poverty. How we react next will define this and future generations.