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The misery we face is a political choice

The cost of living is 'now the most important concern' for 76 per cent of people in the north-east, but even now the government is not changing its course of cuts and poverty — we must fight back, argues KATE OSBORNE MP

THIS week inflation rose 9 per cent to a 40 year high — and working families and pensioners are paying the price. The cost-of-living crisis deepens week on week and is the biggest threat in a generation to the living standards of the working class in this country.

Yet this government offers no solution — instead their policies will cement inequality across our communities for generations.

Over the last 12 years of Tory rule, we have seen cuts to welfare and public services on top of rhetoric that demonises the poor, divide and rule being the go-to motto of this government, harking back to the idea of a “deserving and undeserving poor.” Just look at the recent rhetoric around hard-working families, people not being able to budget, people not knowing how to cook — anything to put the blame on people rather than accept any responsibility themselves.

Yet it is clearly this government that is the cause of the cost-of-living crisis — a crisis underpinned by financial injustice and unfairness.

We know that this cost-of-living crisis is hitting women hardest. Women have been hit most by cuts to social security and public services, women have lower levels of savings and are more likely to be in debt — and it is women who take on the brunt of dealing with the physical and emotional costs. More than 7.5 million women are currently living in relative poverty.

Many of my constituents have been left with no alternative but to choose between whether they eat or fuel their homes.

With 41 per cent of people admitting they are cutting back on grocery shopping, the impact this crisis is having on people’s physical and mental wellbeing cannot be stressed enough.

Politically, the impact across north-east England is becoming clear, with a survey carried out on election day this year showing “that fewer than two in 10 think ministers have done enough to help people with rising living costs,” with 76 per cent of people saying the cost of living is “currently the most important issue.”

Representing the historic constituency of Jarrow, I am reminded of the economic troubles the generation of the Jarrow Marchers suffered during the 1930s. In the town of Jarrow, by 1932, unemployment had risen to a remarkable 80 per cent after the closure of the major Palmer Shipbuilding Yards.

The government’s answer to the economic depression has similar trends to this government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis today. In an attempt to find a solution to the Great Depression, the government embarked on a vicious policy of austerity, which led to the implementation of the means test and in Jarrow, led to the closure of the local Labour Exchange by means of amalgamation. Overnight the local employment rate dropped from 72.9 per cent to 39.6 per cent in 1936.

Such was the collective experience of the struggles faced by the working class of the 1930s, the decade is rightly remembered by those who endured it, as the “hungry 30s.”

With the economic pressures we face today, the government’s actions are eerily similar to those carried out by the government of the 1930s and the collective memory of hunger has come back to haunt the working-class communities of this country.

The unfathomable choice many people face between eating and heating stems directly from a failure to regulate and implement adequate measures to control our rampant energy sector.

The governments refusal to use the Queen’s Speech to deal with the housing crisis, to introduce a right to food, to reintroduce the £20 universal credit uplift and their refusal to rebalance the economy by introducing a Windfall tax, shows a callous attitude to the lives of many who are barely surviving week to week — struggling with rent increases, utility price rises and inflation.

Yet of course this government is willing to protect their mates, to award billions in contracts to its cronies, to ignore the record profits of oil and gas companies in the first quarter of 2022 — with Shell making a record quarterly profit of $9.1 billion, up from $6.3bn of profits in the final three months of 2021, while BP has seen its profits in the first quarter more than double on the previous year to, $6.2bn.

If the best this Chancellor can offer is a tacit threat to impose a windfall tax on these energy companies, we have to be clear, and on behalf of our communities, being true to our politics, we have to fight back against this injustice.

We must actively fight for a windfall tax and an emergency Budget to help families with soaring bills — but also a right to food and a right to housing.

It doesn't have to be like this — it is a political choice from this government to drive living standards down. Unless we see a co-ordinated fight back and changes soon I fear for the people I represent in Jarrow and for the rest of Britain.

Kate Osborne is MP for Jarrow — follow her on Twitter @KateOsborneMP.

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