The cost-of-living crisis is at the forefront of people’s anxieties

Kate’s latest column for Labour Outlook:

Last week marked a significant moment for the Labour and Trade Union Movement.

Eight years ago, we lost Tony Benn and Bob Crow. Throughout their activist and political lives, they played central roles in the struggles that the working class face today. As Secretary of State for Industry and Energy, Tony invested in North Sea Oil. Bob famously coined the phrase, ‘if we all spit together, we can drown the bastards!’

This week is a time to reflect how we miss their wit and wisdom and contribution they brought to the movement and think about how they would squirm at the present economic state of Britain.  

The increase in the cost of living caused by rising energy prices and food costs has never been more at the forefront of the people’s anxieties in my Jarrow constituency and beyond. As reported on Tuesday by the TUC, these anxieties have been compounded by the fact ‘Real Wages have fallen by 1.5%, the worst drop in 8 years.

Today’s cost of living crisis has been bubbling for decades, a problem that is a direct consequence of an economic system that regards water, energy, and food as commodities rather than national assets. A policy whereby over the last 40 years, successive governments have made sure that the private sector has firmly replaced the role of the state, in the name of profit, accountable to profit, at the expense of the taxpayer. A direct consequence of a long lasting neo-liberal, political culture which has hung over our politics for generations.

Why is our government still putting trust in these private companies that remain so intent on ripping people off and putting profit before people?

France is limiting the price of electricity to 4% and will return €100 to almost six million lower-income families. Norway has subsidised household electricity bills … paying a portion of the bill above a certain rate, 80% for the period January to March. Sweden has set aside €600 million to compensate families worst hit by rising energy prices.

If other European Governments can take positive actions to offset the burden on high energy costs, why can’t we?

This is why in the time of the Spring Statement it is our role in the Labour and Trade Union Movement to demand our Government takes significant steps to alleviate this crisis.

I am demanding the Chancellor commits to:

  • A windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas profits.
  • A VAT cut on household energy bills, coupled with an extension of the Warm Homes Discount Scheme.
  • A scrap to the rise in payment of national insurance contributions.
  • A significant rise in the national minimum wage , for everyone irrespective of age.
  • An increase of benefits and state pensions by 8%.

After the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who turned the tide in Labour Party policy with our 2017 and 2019 manifesto, we must keep the flame of Anti-Austerity Politics alive at the core of our movement.

This is why I am proud to back campaigns such as Ian Byrne’s ‘Right to Food’ Campaign and the TUC’s demand that “ for households, should be in the form of a grant, not a loan“.

This is a cost of living crisis, compounded by the Tory Government’s desire to do deals with regimes like Saudi Arabia to offset our shortage of supplies.

In South Tyneside, I am proud to represent a local authority which is home to a large Yemeni population, and I openly condemn Boris Johnsons decision to go cap in hand to Saudi Arabia to purchase oil, the profits of which will not benefit my constituents but will rather line the pockets of these private companies.

I would like to extend my solidarity to the victims of the Wars in Ukraine and Yemen. To remember that the cost of living crisis isn’t on the shoulders of people escaping from war, but rests firmly with our Governments loyalty to the private sector and profit, it is crucial to keep in mind that in any conflict or war, directly or indirectly, it is always the workers who suffer most.