Wages, social security and pensions are falling in real terms. Many families in our area are seeing their disposable income disappear. Some are wondering how they will be able to heat their homes or keep a roof over their heads.
Of course, there have been forces beyond our control at play such as the Covid pandemic and now a Russian war of aggression, but this is only half of the picture.
There is more wealth in our country than ever before. The number of UK billionaires jumped by nearly a quarter during the pandemic. Their collective wealth increased by £106 billion in a year.
How can it be that the super-rich are increasing their wealth by record amounts while everybody else is losing the little money they have?
Covid and war are not the causes of this extreme wealth inequality, but they have highlighted the underlying fractures in our economy. The truth is our current economic difficulties are the product of decades of bad policies that look after the super-rich and neglect working people.
We desperately needed a change of course. That’s why in advance of the spring statement I tabled a parliamentary motion to tackle the cost of living crisis signed by 30 MPs. I was looking for two things from the chancellor of the exchequer last week. Firstly, emergency action to reduce the burden of living costs immediately and secondly, in the longer term, to restructure the British economy to make it more resilient, rebalanced and ultimately removed from the grip of the vested interests of global capital.
He failed in both tasks. The measures announced will hardly offset the fall in living standards for the average person.
The Conservative government plans to increase the cap on energy bills by 54 per cent in April. Consumers have been warned that household bills could rise to as much as £4,000 a year.
Despite pleas from charities and MPs from all sides of the House of Commons, the chancellor refused to scrap the cap increase. He opposed Labour’s proposal for a windfall tax on oil and gas profits to fund the removal of VAT on domestic energy bills and targeted support for those most at risk.
There are 7,427 households in Hemsworth constituency already living in fuel poverty. That is about 17,000 people. There was no new support to help them with their energy bills.
Working people were looking to the chancellor for a pay rise. There are more than 4,000 public sector workers in our area. They have already endured a pay freeze for 10 of the last 12 years. Let’s not forget that these are some of the key workers who got us through the pandemic.
It was within the chancellor’s power to put more money in their pockets but he refused to reward them. Instead he has ploughed ahead with his NI tax increase on working people.
There are 7,543 local families in receipt of universal credit. They suffered a brutal £20 a week cut in October 2021. The chancellor resisted calls to increase universal credit in line
with inflation and has allocated a measly 3.1 per cent rise to these families. This amounts to another massive cut.
Pensioners face the biggest real terms cut to the state pension in half a century with losses up to £427 next year. Age UK has already warned about an unprecedented rise in fuel
poverty amongst pensioners this winter. I have been demanding extra support for older households but this has fallen on deaf ears.
The government is failing in its duty to protect people. I am incredibly fearful about how families in Hemsworth and across the country will cope over the coming months.
It is vitally important that we look out for each other in these difficult times. Wakefield Council is doing the best they can in extremely trying circumstances.
But when we needed decisive action from this Conservative government, all we got was papering over the cracks. They have shown callous disregard for the millions of people who
are struggling through this crisis.