“The “loan” of a miserable £200 the Tories propose is a solution to unaffordable bills shows both their lack of understanding of the financial resources of real people, and their contempt for them.”
By Helen O’Connor, People’s Assembly Against Austerity
We have entered a period of sustained instability and economic crisis but there are no guesses as to who will be expected to pay – the working class. The TUC says energy bills are set to rise 14% higher than wages, food and other prices are already rocketing an the most vulnerable in society – those on benefits and the low-paid “working poor” – are facing devastation.
While last year the twenty-five biggest fuel companies made a staggering $205bn in profits it is estimated that in Northern Ireland it is estimated that 40% of the population will be living soon be living in fuel poverty.
Some things never change, we were told we had we had to accept austerity, pay freezes, benefit cuts to services and further privatisation to pay for the bankers’ crisis in 2008. We saw many thousands of unnecessary deaths of working people during the Covid epidemic while the Tories looted the public finances to give their friends and families billions in contracts for services and goods that either were not delivered or were faulty. While they have enriched themselves, we are now expected to pay for that crisis too.
As oil companies boast they have more money than they know what to do with and arms companies are raking it in, we now are being told we also must “sacrifice” and pay the price of the war in Ukraine.
Low-paid hospital workers I represent as a GMB union official are currently campaigning to secure sick pay and the London Living Wage in some hospitals. Bin workers too are fighting to secure a living wage. It is no exaggeration to say that for millions in this country the choice is between eating and heating. Inflation is steadily increasing and throughout the country even workers in relatively better paid jobs are deeply worried about their declining standard of living.
Even before Covid and Ukraine millions were facing a desperate cost of living crisis. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated up to 14.5 million people in the UK were living in poverty – one in five people. 4.5 children were living in poverty before the pandemic.
Any wage rises this year will be wiped out by increased energy costs and rising inflation. Economic growth is stalled and the government is preparing yet another round of savage public sector cuts that will decimate jobs and more services will be either privatised, reduced or simply destroyed. Another recession, or more likely, stagflation – weak economic growth and inflation – will see millions more driven into poverty.
The “loan” of a miserable £200 the Tories propose is a solution to unaffordable bills shows both their lack of understanding of the financial resources of real people, and their contempt for them. A one-off windfall tax on the big oil companies would be welcome but even if Johnson’s claim they would simply increase prices even further was not true, and it is, such a one-off would be akin to applying a sticking plaster on a potentially lethal wound.
We cannot control what we don’t own. Our movement must demand the nationalisation of the oil companies and every major utility privatise over the past fifty years or so should be brought back into public ownership.
Calls for workers to make “sacrifices” in defence of “democracy” should be treated with the contempt they deserve and unions must step up campaigns to win wage increases in both the public and private sector, demand an end to cuts and privatisation and for an expansion of public sector provision, whether in local authorities, government departments and the NHS itself.
And if poverty and marginalisation is to be tackled it will take more than restoring the £20 stolen from Universal Credit, it will require a fight to establish a fair and equitable social security whose aim is to help people, not punish and marginalise them.
Enough is enough. Workers can’t wait. Our movement must organise a fightback. And as well as a fightback we need to advocate an alternative – a socialist alternative.
- Helen O’Connor is an organiser for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and for the GMB Union, follow her on twitter here.
- Find out how you can take part in a cost-of-living crisis People’s Assembly demonstration near you, with further action being called on Saturday, April 2nd.