Cost-of-living crisis: Tories can't use Ukraine war as a human shield to hide their responsibility for the coming financial Armageddon – Susan Dalgety

Have you received the dreaded email from your energy company yet? The one that tells you how much your monthly direct debit will increase from next month?

Will Chancellor Rishi Sunak, seen in Cabinet sitting next to Boris Johnson, make amends for his party's economic policies? (Picture: Ben Stansall/PA)
Will Chancellor Rishi Sunak, seen in Cabinet sitting next to Boris Johnson, make amends for his party's economic policies? (Picture: Ben Stansall/PA)

My new supplier, Shell Energy, which was gifted my account after my previous company went bust, has still to send me the bad news. But their recent missive advising me how the energy cap is likely to affect my bill was enough to scare me.

My annual bill will go up by at least £900, which includes a new standing charge of 49.73p a day, double the current fee. That is £182 a year solely for the privilege of being one of Shell’s customers.

Shell Energy is a subsidiary of Shell, which made a whopping $19.3 billion profit last year. As gas and oil supplies contract, so the price goes up and companies like Shell cash in, leaving us, the weary, the old, the poor, to pay the price. Isn’t unfettered capitalism wonderful?

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Doom-scrolling through Twitter, I keep stumbling across people terrified at the rise in their energy bills. Jack Monroe, the anti-poverty campaigner and author of several very useful budget cook books, revealed earlier this week that her new monthly charge will be £626. She currently pays £200.

Her incredulity was clear as she tweeted, “A 224 per cent price increase, an extra £433 a month. How can this be right?! I can’t move, I can’t unplug anything else, I barely use my heating, we don’t have a telly plugged in or a router etc, don’t use a tumble dryer, what the f***.”

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Ironically, her shocked and shocking tweet came the day after she had appeared in front of the Westminster work and pensions select committee, where she warned that people could die because of the cost-of-living crisis.

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She was giving evidence, not about energy prices, but about the urgent need for the government to increase benefits in line with the true cost of inflation – about eight per cent – and not the 3.1 per cent currently planned.

She told MPs that rocketing food prices would badly affect children and disabled people, and in some cases may even prove “fatal”.

She explained to MPs (current annual salary £81,932) that people on the lowest incomes (current annual Universal Credit for a single person over 25 is £3,898) have been the hardest hit by recent food price increases, with £20 now buying two-thirds of the goods that it did a few years ago.

And she told the committee that people are cutting their household budgets, not by choosing to forgo a leg of lamb or a trip to the theatre, but instead it is “people deciding: ‘we won’t eat on Tuesday or Thursday this week’ or ‘we’ll turn the heating off’ or ‘we’ll skip meals.’’’

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Jack Monroe has already done more than most politicians to help people cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Her now-famous Twitter thread, where she set out how inflation affects those on the lowest incomes far more than even those on average earnings, shocked at least one supermarket into direct action.

She pointed out that the cheapest pasta in her local supermarket that was 29p for 500g last year is now 70p, a 141 per cent increase. And a bag of the cheapest rice, which was 45p for a kilogram 12 months ago, is now £1 for 500g – an incredible jump of 344 per cent.

Less than a month after her revelations, Asda promised to re-introduce its budget food ranges in all its 581 food stores and online by this month. And the Office of National Statistics announced it was changing the way it reports on food inflation, to take into account a wider range of income levels.

Jack Monroe is not the only campaigner to highlight the cost-of-living juggernaut that threatens to overwhelm many households in the coming months.

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Money-saving expert Martin Lewis admitted in a BBC interview earlier this week that he had run out of advice for people on how to save money on their energy bills. “This is for [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak to solve,” he said.

He also warned that the government seemed to be blaming the war in Ukraine for the crisis. “That is not correct,” he said. “What has happened in Ukraine has exacerbated the situation, but the rises in energy, heating oil, water, Council Tax, broadband and mobiles, food, National Insurance were all in place before Ukraine… It is a worsening of the situation, it is not the cause of the situation.”

Lewis is spot on with his analysis. This disaster has been years in the making, since the Great Crash of 2008.

The dramatic cuts in public spending, including benefits, introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition were just the start. Wage stagnation has seen salaries stall. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reckons the average worker will be £13,000 a year worse off by around 2025 than if wages had continued to rise at the pre-2008 rate.

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Add in a global pandemic, Brexit, soaring fuel and energy prices, tax increases, and now a war on mainland Europe, and you have the perfect ingredients for financial Armageddon.

In less than a fortnight, on March 23, Sunak will make his spring statement. He has a choice. He can follow the lead of the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who said recently that people were “willing to endure hardships” to support Ukraine, and use the war as a human shield.

Or he can face up to his government’s responsibility for the cost-of-living crisis. His party’s economic ideology is the root cause of the financial disaster about to hit millions. Does he have the courage to make amends, or will his right-wing instincts win out, leaving the rest of us to, wearily, pick up the bill?

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