Protest against the cost of living in February. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Protest against the cost of living in February. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Take the wealth off the super-rich

Thousands of households in Britain face financial catastrophe, and millions more face hardship. As the Socialist went to press, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was putting the finishing touches to his Spring statement.

In March 2020, when the Covid pandemic hit, the government let loose with unprecedented levels of spending to save their profit system. Now devastation faces working-class people’s standard of living in a new unfolding crisis.

Far from funding the services we need, ahead of the statement Sunak announced an increase… in the NHS ‘savings’ target – £4.75 billion will be taken from NHS budgets.

Sunak might go through with plans to cut fuel duty, but a 10p cut would only wipe out a quarter of the last year’s petrol and diesel price rises.

The total cost of energy price rises in Britain to consumers is set to rise to as high as £43 billion. Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has called for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers. That measure would bring in £3.7 billion, barely touching the sides.

And what about all of the other companies that have made record profits throughout the pandemic? Billionaires’ wealth increased by over 50% between March 2021 and January 2022.

Emergency measures are needed now. Not to save the bosses’ profits, but to save our livelihoods. And the wealth must be seized from the super-rich to pay for it.

Below, Socialist Party members explain the effects of the crisis on our working-class communities, and what needs to be done to fight it.

‘Wages won’t cover rent’

The cost-of-living crisis means that my partner and I are unlikely to be able to find somewhere to rent together close to where we work in Manchester. It takes us both about an hour each way to commute and bus fares keep going up.

After leaving university we are encouraged to get jobs, in city centres, which pay less than £20,000 a year, or even unpaid internships! But the cost of living is so high that wages don’t even come close to covering rent, bills, council tax and food.

Manchester City Council has recently agreed to develop at least two new skyscrapers in the city centre, with over 1,500 flats being opened up, but only a tiny fraction are labelled ‘affordable’. Who are these flats built for?

We say pay everyone a living wage, make flats and rented properties affordable, and end the erection of pointless, unaffordable buildings!

Zakk Brown, Manchester and Salford Socialist Party

‘Multiple jobs to keep heads above water’

Rental properties targeted at students are all seeing a large spike in rent, some by as much as £30 a week. Several students I know had multiple gig economy jobs, even before this round of inflation, just to keep above water.

In York, students have to go as far as Hull to find a place to live. A wave of student rent strikes swept the country in 2020. But this squeeze is by no means limited to students. The cost of rent has been increasing faster than real wages almost non-stop since 1980. The reason why is relatively simple, it is more profitable to make fewer expensive houses for the better off than more affordable houses for the working class.

Fortunately, the solution to the problem is actually quite simple! Government-built housing to house people rather than turn a profit.

Arthur Farr, York Socialist Party

‘A political choice to allow ordinary people to pay for keeping profits high’

In the last three months, our weekly food shop cost has increased by an average of 25% per week. I’m currently saving to go back to university to retrain as a paramedic. This is already a mammoth task, as paramedics are not covered by any bursary or other student finance support.

I currently work for a charity supporting older people with everything from financial advice to social engagement. In my day-to-day work life I work with hundreds of people trying to survive on state pensions.

At the moment, the thing I hear the most is that people are scared. For the last twenty years, the Winter Fuel Allowance has made paying the bills easier, now it won’t even touch the sides. One woman told me that she already goes out during the day to avoid having the heating on.

The cost-of-living crisis is about to push millions of people on the lower end of the pay scale into real poverty. The government wants to blame the war in Ukraine for rising costs in the hope that people will accept it out of solidarity with Ukrainians. We won’t.

This cost-of-living crisis, including plans to raise the cap on energy costs, predates the Ukraine war. This is a political choice, to allow ordinary people to pay the price for keeping energy profits high.

Siobhan Friel, Birmingham South West Socialist Party