The UK Cost of Living Crisis: A Closer Look at the Facts

A Country at Breaking Point? How the UK is Shouldering A Cost of Living Crisis 

By Christie Johnson

Did you watch the BRIT Awards this year? 

If you happened to be tuning in on 11th February, the BRIT Awards, or the BRITs, is the UK’s annual popular music awards event hosted at the O2 arena in London. 

From crowds enjoying a wave of impressive performances to a myriad of quirky and lavishly dressed stars strutting down the red carpet, it was undoubtedly an evening brimming with festivity and luxury. 

Less than a week later, a survey by Together Through This Crisis – an initiative comprising of charities Save the Children, Shelter, Turn2us, Little Village, and 38 Degrees – revealed that almost 40% of people in the UK are finding themselves without money at the end of each month, while another study warned 90% of food banks have seen an unprecedented increase in demand.  

But what exactly does this have to do with the BRITs? You ask. Well, since the UK plunged into a “cost of living crisis” at the back end of 2021, the juxtaposition between the rich and the poor, the “haves” and the “have nots”, has become increasingly palpable over the last year.  

Let’s not forget that the disparity between these two socioeconomic groups has always been there. However, the reality of the divide seems to have magnified to a level that’s difficult to ignore in the UK, with millions of people struggling to make ends meet and living hand to mouth every month. 

This article explores the reasons behind the UK’s cost of living crisis, the effect it is having on everyday people, and how a rotten political system is perhaps to blame. 

What is the Cost of Living Crisis?

According to the Institute for Government, the “cost of living crisis” is the “fall in ‘real’ disposable incomes (that is, adjusted for inflation after taxes and benefits) that the UK has experienced since late 2021.” 

In other words, the cost of living crisis refers to the UK public’s inability to afford basic amenities due to rocketing food, fuel, and energy prices as a result of an exponential rise in inflation – the highest it’s been since the 1980s. 

Professional services network, PwC, revealed in its annual survey that 86% of people in the UK are worried about affording daily living costs with many changing their behaviour and spending habits to accommodate the financial squeeze.

So what has caused the significant rise in inflation? Well, experts are attributing the burgeoning monetary pressures to the reopening of the economy following the disruption of COVID-19 and unrelenting lockdowns which brought the country, and most of the world, to a standstill. Although many countries are suffering similar financial burdens, Brexit – the UK’s exit strategy following the country’s decision to leave the European Union – is adding additional layers of uncertainty and pressure. 

Despite the UK government providing cost of living support packages for households, the burden of soaring living costs is causing untold desperation, especially for those who are already trying to keep their heads above the poverty line. Head of Economics for poverty charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation David Innes told the Guardian, “The decisions people have to make are made harder […] if you’re already spending mainly on essentials, where are you going to cut back if prices are going up?”

Man wearing t-shirt that says 'Birmingham Central foodbank' sorting donated food items
Organizations like the Birmingham Central foodbank are helping address food security in the UK.
Source: the trussel trust

UK Food Banks Are at “Breaking Point”

In order to survive the bleak throes of the cost of living crisis, more and more people are turning to food banks. 

In November 2022 the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, confirmed demand is at a record high as the charity distributed an overwhelming 1.3 million emergency food parcels from April 2022 to September 2022. What’s more, the charity is seeing new people accessing their services every day, with 1 in 5 working people struggling to cover basic amenities. With need far exceeding donations, the Trussell Trust is calling for urgent government intervention into what looks to be the “new normal” for Britain. 

The cost of living crisis is affecting some of the most vulnerable communities too. Charity Macmillan Cancer Support published heartbreaking findings in April 2022 which revealed a quarter of people diagnosed with cancer are buying less food, cutting back on meals, and selling their possessions or turning to loan sharks to keep up with spiralling household bills. Approximately 1 million people with cancer have admitted to wearing their coats and dressing gowns inside in an effort to stay warm and keep spending down.

A Wave of Strike Action 

A deluge of strike action has hit the UK in recent months. 

As a consequence of a country in crisis, hundreds of thousands of key workers – from teachers to nurses to ambulance drivers – have walked out following rows over pay and unfair working conditions. Many are calling for better wages to cope with the rising cost of living. 

From poor staff retention to insufficient funding have left essential services, such as the National Health Service (NHS), on their knees. The British Medical Association (BMA) recent ballot found a staggering 98% of junior doctors voted in favour of strike action with a planned 72-hour walkout scheduled for March 2023. Junior doctors have seen a 26% pay cut since 2008 and were only offered a 2% pay rise this year. 

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr. Robert Laurenson and Dr. Vivek Trivedi said in a recent press release: “We are frustrated, in despair and angry and we have voted in our thousands to say, ‘in the name of our profession, our patients, and our NHS, doctors won’t take it anymore.’

Insurmountable pressures and unrealistic expectations on NHS staff have led to a mental health crisis with stress and “burnout” now endemic among doctors, nurses, and paramedics. Sick days taken as a result of stress now far outweigh COVID-19 illnesses as the NHS in England forks out £15 million to cover the loss of working days. 

Shockingly, national funding for NHS staff mental health support will soon be coming to an end, leaving many vulnerable individuals who have been described as “suicidal” and in “complete limbo” in a dangerous situation. 

Professor Tony Lavender, workforce and training lead for the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology said removing a vital service that many vulnerable NHS staff access “is at best irresponsible, and at worst clinically dangerous”, especially when the wounds of a global pandemic still run deep and the cost of living crisis is weighing heavily on many individuals. ​

The Conservative Party and a Rotten Political System  

Have you noticed the rot oozing from the UK government lately? 

While most of the country struggles to make ends meet and public services dwindling, the people in power continue to govern from a glistening ivory tower; a gilded fortress where the rules apparently don’t apply. 

Fortunately, it’s now getting harder for some self-serving politicians to mask the putrid smell of corruption wafting from inside parliamentary walls. 

Take former Prime Minister Boris Johnson who announced his resignation on 7th July 2022 following over 50 party members walking out in protest against countless instances of scandal. From using public funds to ensure his Conservative party friends received PPE contracts worth millions  (which turned out to be completely useless) to the sanctioning of illegal lockdown parties during a global pandemic, experts have warned Johnson’s leadership was more corrupt “than any UK government since the Second World War.”

More recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sacked Nadhim Zahawi as chairman of the Conservative Party for “serious breaches” of the ministerial code regarding his tax affairs. Considered one of the richest men in UK politics, Zahawi was fined a penalty of around £5 million for unpaid taxes during his time as chancellor. 

The UK is shouldering an irrefutably flawed government. As grassroots organisation Open Britain states, the UK upholds a rotten political system that is “designed around the needs of megacorporations and the ultra-wealthy” while allowing “life’s essentials – food and energy – to become unaffordable for millions of us.” 

The UK Cost of Living Crisis: A cat sits before a black bricked building with white frames
The main entrance of 10 Downing Street, the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is by law nowadays also the prime minister
Author: Parrot of Doom – Own work

Cost of Living Crisis: Is There a Solution? 

The UK is a country in crisis. 

The systems that were set up to support the everyday person are falling apart. 

From a rotten government that favors the needs of the very wealthy to the millions of people struggling to afford basic amenities, it’s clear that something needs to change. 

But how can we move forward? 

Although there is no straightforward answer, several grassroots organisations are working to challenge the untenable status quo in search of sustainable alternatives to a broken system. 

In response to a “crisis in governance”, Extinction Rebellion uses peaceful protest to advocate for a more sustainable world while the political movement Open Britain is “fighting to secure a proper democracy” that favours the many, not just the wealthy few. 

As the cost of living crisis and a self-serving political system carries on unabated, the voices of the British public continue to grow stronger. It’s time to say “enough is enough!”

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