The House of Commons is in recess to allow the two big UK political parties to hold their annual conferences. Meanwhile, a collision of multiple issues and crises requiring Parliamentary scrutiny and urgent action from the UK Government is currently playing out, with none of the Parliamentary scrutiny taking place and very little evidence of any Government action.
Firstly, the decision to abruptly reduce Universal Credit payments lacks any sense of compassion or understanding of the difficulties faced daily by families.
Here in Gordon, figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that 4,460 working-age families in the constituency will be affected by the planned £20 cut to the incomes of families on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit being pushed through by the UK Conservative Government.
Thousands of families are facing a big squeeze on their incomes at the moment. Rising energy prices and food bills, as well as an imminent National Insurance hike will push many low-income families into having to make unpalatable trade-offs between heating and eating. Twenty pounds each week might not be much to a Conservative Cabinet Minister, but it is without question a significant amount for families on low or average incomes.
According to the Financial Times, the UK tax burden is already set to hit a 70-year high, and the Bank of England’s new Chief Economist has said that high levels of inflation could persist for longer than expected. In its September policy statement, the Bank said it expected consumer price inflation to reach 4% later in the year - well above its 2% bank target - and to remain high for some time.
Individually, none of these things are good news. Taken together, it’s clear that we’re heading towards some fairly tough times. And that’s before we survey the increasing number of challenges the UK Government has inflicted through its handling of Brexit.
In what may yet become a defining moment in illustrating just how low a priority for this government our farmers and processors have become, we had the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister on the BBC trying to persuade viewers that the prospect of 120,000 healthy pigs having to be culled and incinerated instead of going into the food chain due to labour shortages is somehow perfectly acceptable, on the grounds that those animals would have been killed anyway.
The Prime Minister clearly lacks the insight and empathy to understand the difference between raising animals for food, from which farmers make a living and on which jobs depend throughout the supply chain; and dumping perfectly healthy animals in the incinerator because Brexit means there are not enough people to transport the animals and staff the processing plants.
I’ve chosen the pig sector to illustrate this point as I was given the opportunity to visit a local pig farmer earlier this week to see first-hand the difficulties which are emerging. However, many other sectors are also suffering as the consequences of an ill-thought-out and poorly implemented Brexit policy come home to roost.
Rather than bring forward a package of meaningful support to secure an investment-led recovery from the pandemic, the UK Government has instead pursued harmful policies that will push households into poverty and hardship, and which risk seeing many of our industries – particularly those who have relied on seasonal workers – taken to the brink. I will continue to press UK Government Ministers to grasp the seriousness of all these factors and to take urgent, useful action to address them.