Column for February 3

Column for February 3

Published date : 03 February, 2022

Food writer and journalist Jack Monroe - known for campaigning on poverty issues and especially on hunger relief - has written in a blog and an excellent newspaper article recently about how the rise in food costs falls hardest on the least well off in our society. 
Monroe – who produces recipes that use the most cost-effective of supermarket ingredients - took to the keyboard to highlight how many supermarket ‘value’ lines are disappearing, leaving those who previously relied upon them no alternative but to buy more expensive options. Often, it’s just the same product, only in more colourful packaging. 
It highlights the broader ‘cost of living’ crisis from which a UK Government, so clearly distracted by its own difficulties, is failing to address. When the Chief Executive of Iceland supermarket chain observes his shops are losing customers to food banks and hunger rather than competitors, that should tell us we’ve reached a very serious place indeed. 
Even the Armed Forces Minister, James Heappey, admitted on BBC Question Time that the UK Government needs to do “a lot more” to help those feeling the pinch from rising prices and falling wages.
We face a perfect storm of UK Government spending cuts, tax hikes, rising energy bills, general inflation and falling wages. The Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank focussed on improving living standards for those on low incomes, has warned that 2022 will be the ‘year of the squeeze’.

The debt charity StepChange has revealed that some 15 million people in the UK – one in three - are already finding it hard to keep up with bills, a figure that has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. That is before energy bills rise in April, a prospect that gives me serious cause for concern at the potential for families, already on tight budgets, to be forced into making some very hard choices.

The UK has the worst levels of poverty and inequality in North-west Europe and the highest in-work poverty this century. Hardly a record to be proud of. 
Twelve years of UK Government cuts, regressive tax hikes and the soaring cost of Brexit have squeezed household budgets and pushed people into poverty. The UK Government cannot escape the fact that it has left families worse off and is failing to reverse the damage it has caused.
The UK Government have it within their power to help these low-income families and the most hard-hit. They can always find money when they want to, and they have written off a pretty extraordinary amount of money, squandered during the covid crisis because of what their own resigning Minister has called a "woeful" lack of oversight. 

The UK Government should introduce an emergency package to boost household incomes. Reverse the cuts to Universal Credit, match the Scottish Child Payment UK-wide, deliver a low-income energy payment, raise sick pay and introduce a real living wage.

We face the biggest cost-of-living crisis we have seen. If Westminster fails to use the powers at its disposal to help people, it should give those powers to the Scottish Parliament, where we know there is the willingness to use these powers to protect those most in need of help right now. 

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