The following article by Nick Garbutt was first published in Scope Magazine and highlights the difficulties inflicted on poor and vulnerable people. The Workers Party analysis of poverty and austerity is rooted in its critique of the capitalist system and the absolute and immediate need for a socialist alternative.
Before, the cost of living crisis struck our welfare system was already deficient. Years of austerity coupled with barely disguised contempt for those who struggled to get by had seen to that.
A country that used to pride itself on providing a safety net for the vulnerable had turned its back. So when banking systems all but collapsed as a result of deregulation … it was not those culpable who were forced to pick up the tab.
They continued to enrich themselves. Instead, we were told that what was needed most was a good strong dose of austerity. In practice that meant cutting benefits and other supports to the vulnerable.
At the time, and to its shame, the media bought into this and didn’t ask awkward questions. If they had they would have discovered that far from helping revive economies it has the opposite effect. Indeed every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.
In the interim we’ve learned the hard way that poverty actually kills.
The British government’s response was one of the most severe and although it did not fix the economy it did succeed in reversing what had been steady progress in increasing life expectancy, creating the necessity for foodbanks and ensuring that many in employment became reliant on welfare to survive.
By March Richard Walker, managing director of frozen food stores Iceland, was telling BBC Radio 4 that families using food banks to keep themselves fed were having to leave root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes behind because they could not afford to cook them.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest rescue package may well make a difference … (but)…there are, … several problems which remain.
The absolute desperation that so many found themselves in when inflation hit at a time when household budgets were not able to cope with existing costs is the most worrying.
It demonstrated just how vulnerable poorer people are. The safety net which welfare is supposed to provide is not adequate to cater for the most basic needs.
What was really required was not just a one-off package, no matter how generous, but a reversal of the welfare policies that have become fashionable over the past decade or so.
These are based on ideas which are rooted in America, that the poor and vulnerable are somehow culpable for their own plight and that any benefits provided by the state should be the bare minimum for their survival.
And there should also be a rigorous examination of the energy industry and how it is regulated. These assets used to be publicly owned and for a very good reason.
The reason why oil and gas companies are having such a bumper time when so many are suffering is because of how the investment markets work. They don’t look at the actual amount of profit, rather they measure profit as a percentage of sales the resulting calculation constitutes the profit margin.
So therefore prices don’t just go up because the fuel is more expensive to buy they are also increased by the relevant profit margin. Hence when SSE CEO Alistair Phillips-Davies , who earned 1.6 million in 20/21 was asked about how people should cope with rising prices he did not offer to lower bills, instead he said people should: try “having a cuddle with your pets”, eating “hearty bowls of porridge” and “doing a few star jumps”.
A system that determines prices and measure performance to please investors is not one which necessarily suits the needs of people who can’t even afford to light the cooker.
See Nick Garbutt’s article in full: https://scopeni.nicva.org/article/the-cost-of-living-crisis