Prime Minister Johnson is still busy trying to find the good news story that will bump #partygate off the front pages. The Queen came to his rescue over the weekend, but she’s had to endure 70 years of governing us (and let’s face it this is just a temporary reprieve for Johnson).
What is going to stay with us longer than news that Prince Charles’ “darling wife” will be referred to as ‘queen consort’ once he’s on the throne, is the fact that his subjects are enduring hardships that we have not seen for decades.
Cost of living crisis is escalating
The current rate of inflation rose by 4.8 percent in the 12 months to December 2021 according to Office for National Statistics, taking the inflation rate to 5.4 percent – the highest for 30 years.
This could be pushed even higher in the next few months, as rising domestic fuel costs could result in average prices increasing by up to £693 a year in April. April is also the month when workers and the self-employed will start paying an additional 1.25 percent in national insurance contributions under the health and social care levy.
Inflation is predicted to top 7 percent in the next few months with food prices expected to contribute to this. Over the weekend, Tesco boss John Allan told the BBC, “the worst is yet to come” on rising food prices, saying he was only too aware that people were having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.
A YouGov survey on 4 February showed that six in ten Britons who are already in financial difficulty expect their situation to get worse over the next year. Unsurprisingly, it is those on the lower incomes who expect to be hit the hardest. “A price increase of 1.5% in the weekly shop might seem minor to some, but for Britons who are struggling to cover costs, it can be a serious blow to their budget” says YouGov.
A perfect storm of high energy bills and tax rises
On Monday, the TUC warned that millions of low-income workers face a “perfect storm” this April, with universal credit falling behind the cost of living as energy bills and taxes rise.
New TUC analysis reveals that the number of workers on universal credit has increased by 1.3 million since the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their analysis of official statistics shows that over 2.3 million workers were in receipt of universal credit at the end of 2021, an increase of 130 percent over the last two years.
And as we all now know, it is working households that are being pushed into financial hardship with many families struggling to cover the basics.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Millions of low-paid workers face a perfect storm this April … At the same time as energy prices and national insurance contributions shoot up, universal credit is falling in value.”
Cost-of-living support “woefully inadequate”
The TUC says the government must do far more to help struggling households to get through the months ahead. The union says the cost-of-living support announced by the chancellor on Thursday is “woefully inadequate” and will provide families with just £7 extra a week – most of which will have to be repaid.
Analysis last week from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that even after the deferral scheme for energy bills and council tax discount were taken into account, once the higher energy costs kick in, some families on low incomes will face annual bills as high as £2,326 from April.
Families on low incomes will spend on average 16 percent of their incomes after housing costs on energy bills. This compares to 5 percent for middle-income families. So much for levelling up. It is more of dumbing down – and for the poorest and most disadvantaged the playing field could not be more uneven.
Political consequences of levelling down
Johnson may be busy shuffling his deck of cards in the vain hope that he can pull out some aces – but the reality is that he only has 52 jokers in his pack. No one in his Cabinet seems to acknowledge the plight of the working poor in this country, never mind having a plan to address the issue.
This is what 12 years of austerity looks like in Britain 2022. MPs in seats like Bolsover, Keighley, Dewsbury and Wakefield (Tory seats gained from Labour in 2019) – where deprivation and low pay feature prominently – must wonder what it will take to keep their jobs.