It’s a shocking tragedy that in one of the richest countries in the world, nearly one in ten parents say they’re very likely to need to use a food bank in the coming months.
Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party
Last week, government ministers were instructed to find ‘non-fiscal’ ways to combat the cost-of-living emergency – in other words, solutions that don’t come with a price tag. It’s clear for all to see that the measures announced in the spring statement barely scratch the surface of this crisis – but this government, wedded to discredited ideas about spending and utterly out of touch with the realities of life for people in this country, refuses point blank to face up to the reality and meet the emergency with the serious response it requires.
Among the ‘non-fiscal’ measures toted were efforts to promote existing schemes, such as tax-free childcare and pension credit, which have low take-up. This is all very well, and indeed it’s important to ensure that people are aware of savings and benefits that are available to them. But with figures this week showing that grocery prices are up nearly 6% compared to last year, it’s obvious that those schemes will help only a fraction of those who are no longer able to afford the basics.
More worrying, is Boris Johnson’s push to relax health and safety rules in order to cut costs – suggesting allowing nurseries to accept more children without employing more staff, and pushing MOTs to every two years instead of one. It’s measures like this that lay bare the vandalism done to our society by over a decade of Tory austerity. Almost daily we hear soundbites about making Britain ‘world-leading’ – but the reality is that twelve years of cuts have pushed our society to breaking point, and the only solution that the government has to offer is reducing standards even further.
I don’t know many parents who would be thrilled to hear that their toddler is being looked after in a class size previously considered unsafe. I’m not sure either that many motorists would feel safer on the roads knowing that the cars around them might not have been safety checked for two years.
Meanwhile, the squeeze on local councils – which so many people rely on for vital services – has not abated for a decade, and is being exacerbated by soaring inflation. Twelve years after first being asked to make cuts, councils are still being forced to reduce what they can offer. In Hackney, parents are battling to keep two children’s centres open, which they rely on for affordable childcare; nearby in Tower Hamlets, the last three subsidised nurseries closed in 2018.
It’s a shocking tragedy that in one of the richest countries in the world, nearly one in ten parents say they’re very likely to need to use a food bank in the coming months. But it’s no accident: it’s the result of twelve years of callous, destructive attacks on our communities and our society from those with no stake in it.
One of the richest MPs in Parliament, Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently admitted that his wife had used non-dom status to reduce the amount of tax she paid in the UK. The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has also used non-dom status and held money in an offshore trust. Now, these same individuals refuse to lift a finger to help those struggling to survive.
We should all be angry about the damage done by over a decade of Tory wreckers in government. But it’s crucial that we also remember that the crisis we face now is not inevitable. There is an alternative: a safety net which allows everyone not only to survive but to thrive; a Green New Deal to transform our society and invest in green jobs; and well-funded, flourishing communities.
Next week, voters in many areas across England and Wales will go to the polls to vote for their local councillors. Now is the time to elect representatives who will build that alternative – principled Green councillors who will make people’s voices heard and work to make real change in their communities.
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