We live in the sixth richest country in the world. Yet over 4.3 million children live in poverty, and last year at least two million people relied on foodbanks because their income didn’t cover the cost of living. Inflation is the highest it’s been for decades and we’ve all seen our energy bills shoot up. Working class people are struggling to pay for both heating and eating. We are living through the most severe cost of living crisis in generations.
So in this cost of living crisis, what has been the response from the Tories and their friends?
Well, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the richest MP and the first to ever be in the Sunday Times Rich List (£730m fortune jointly with his wife Akshata Murty, numerous homes including a mansion in California complete with a pet spa), said last month, “I cannot pretend this will be easy”. But of course it will be easy for him and his family – they have £20m saved up from not paying UK taxes.
Tory MP Lee Anderson, who claimed over £220,000 in expenses last year, said the problem is that we can’t budget properly or cook cheap meals from scratch. Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England with a £575,000 annual pay cheque, said that the rest of us should “think and reflect” before seeking a pay rise.
Home Office minister Rachel Maclean (last year’s expenses claimed were £213,000) said that we needed to work more hours or get a better paid job if we were struggling.
But the real problem is that the jobs we do don’t have proper wages – for instance a newly qualified nurse gets around £25,000 a year. No wonder there are over 110,000 vacancies in the NHS.
But the money is there. As our fuel bills have gone up, BP, Shell and Chevron between them collected £22,000,000,000 in profits in just the first three months of this year. And since the pandemic, that threw millions of working class people in to poverty and debt, there are now more UK billionaires than ever and their combined wealth has increased. That newly qualified nurse would have to work for 40,000 years and never spend a penny to become a billionaire.
It’s a different world in the city. A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) released this week has found that just in March, almost £6bn was paid out in bankers’ bonuses, and overall, their bonuses are back to the obscene levels they reached before the 2008 financial crash.
So if there’s plenty of money to make sure that no-one goes cold or hungry, the problem is about political priorities. After much resistance, Sunak has finally announced a one-off energy windfall tax, but that won’t cut it.
I’m the Branch Secretary of Camden UNISON, the trade union that organises and represents Camden Council workers, and our members will be joining the demonstration called by the TUC. Over the last decade, our wages have gone down 25%, which means we work a day a week for free compared to 2012. At the same time, the Tories have halved funding to councils, making it harder for us to provide the services all of us need.
Throughout the pandemic, like lots of you, our members helped to provide services – in schools, care homes and many more places, and we got yet another pay cut in real terms this year as thanks. And now it’s become clear that whilst we were all working, Johnson and his mates were having Wine Time Fridays and karaoke parties, getting so drunk that they had fights, being rude and abusive to cleaning staff – breaking all the covid rules that they made. It’s time for all of us to come together to say enough is enough.
The Tories are in a state of crisis – only this week almost half of their MPs voted that they had no confidence in their leader. This was a worse result than Theresa May got, and she was forced to resign within six months. Boris Johnson even got booed at the Queen’s jubilee party. They are clearly weak and divided, so now is the time for us to force the Tories to change those political priorities or get out.
That’s why trade unions have come together and will be on the TUC protest on Saturday 18 June. This demonstration is our chance to tell the Tories that we have had enough of their austerity, that we want to see people put before profit. We will be assembling from 11am in Portland Place (outside the BBC) with the Camden UNISON banner before marching off at 12 noon. Join us!