Every day brings bleaker forecasts of the depths of the cost of living crisis. Last week it was news that the energy price cap was set to rocket to £3,359 from October, and this week an estimate puts it at £4,266 by January. Then the Bank of England announced the biggest interest rate hike in 27 years. This week, another stark warning of the disastrous consequences of this crisis: a report predicting that 35 million people will be in fuel poverty by the end of the year.
Against this truly frightening backdrop, the public are owed solutions from politicians that match the scale of the crisis. But our political class has almost nothing to say. Behind the headlines are real people suffering, powerfully recounted in this paper’s recent Heat or eat diaries: parents who can’t put food on the table, private renters struggling to keep a roof over their heads, elderly people terrified of facing winter with no money to pay the bills. I see this in my constituency, with more and more people coming to me unable to make ends meet.
Often this is discussed as if it were somehow natural, as if we just have to accept that millions more people will be plunged into poverty. But none of this is inevitable. Millions of people are experiencing a cost of living crisis not because there’s not enough to go around, but because wealth and power is hoarded by a privileged few. Alongside a record squeeze on living standards, Britain is also home to record wealth.
Multinational corporations such as BP and Shell have announced eye-watering profits (nearly £50bn for the oil giants at the last count), while this year’s Sunday Times Rich List revealed that Britain is home to more billionaires than ever. Meanwhile, bankers’ bonuses have reached levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.
It’s a cost of living crisis for the many, but it’s a bonanza for the few. This crisis is the result of a choice: do we build an economy that satisfies corporate greed, or one that meets people’s needs? Time and again, Britain’s political class has opted for their greed over our need.
Elsewhere in the world there are glimpses of an alternative choice: Spain’s socialist president announced free rail journeys to ease costs (alongside higher taxes on banks), while Jacinda Ardern slashed New Zealand’s public transport fares by 50%. In France, Emmanuel Macron brought EDF into public ownership and kept energy bills low.
These measures aren’t radical – they’re the bare minimum given the scale of the crisis. But even mild policy proposals such as these are absent from British politics. It’s little surprise they are not coming from Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, both of whom are too busy promising tax cuts for big businesses and stoking division, eyes set firmly on winning over the Tory faithful. But it’s not just the Tories. As working-class people face an unprecedented attack on their living standards, my own party, in truth, isn’t offering enough.
Earlier this year, we called for a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies to fund lower energy bills. It could have gone further, but it was a strong, clear demand: squeeze profits, not living standards. But since the Tories’ windfall tax U-turn, Labour hasn’t demanded nearly enough.
In fact, it has even sent the wrong signals, sacking my colleague Sam Tarry from the shadow frontbench for speaking to the media at a picket line. If Labour won’t stand alongside working people fighting for decent pay, what do we stand for?
Whatever explains this stance – whether it’s deference to focus groups or a party scared of its own shadow – our communities need the Labour movement firmly on their side. That’s what trade unions are doing. From the RMT and Aslef fighting the biggest railway dispute in generations, to the CWU winning the first national call centre strike ballot in British history, unions are stepping up.
Labour should be clear about whose side we are on, and it needs to learn that standing with workers isn’t about identifying with a sectional interest, it’s about siding with the vast majority of the public whose collective interests trade unions are defending.
But as crucial as these industrial fights are, this crisis can’t be tackled by strikes alone. That’s why with the CWU and the RMT, community groups Acorn and Fans Supporting Foodbanks, Tribune magazine and Liverpool West Derby Labour MP Ian Byrne, yesterday I launched Enough is Enough, a national campaign to fight the cost of living crisis.
The headline demands are straightforward – from a real public sector pay rise and much lower energy bills, to tax rises for the super-rich – and the message is simple: put our need before their greed. The campaign will have local groups organising solidarity in action: attending picket lines and eviction resistance, supporting food banks and giving practical help in the community. Nationally we will make our case in parliament, on the streets, and in the media.
Throughout this crisis, the political class has failed to stand up for the needs of the majority, refusing to speak out against corporate greed. Enough is enough. It’s time to turn anger into action and fight the cost of living crisis.
Zarah Sultana is the Labour MP for Coventry South