A Difficult Time
Everywhere we see evidence of our broken society. Whether it’s the litter-strewn, rat-infested streets of the capital or the spiralling energy costs or the outbreak of strikes by public sector workers fighting for a decent wage. In the last year, the price of energy will have increased by 178% – taking the price cap to £3,549. This is “the biggest attack on living standards in decades”.
This is a social crisis on top of an ecological one. They are converging. What these emergent crises have in common is they represent problems ignored and deferred and left to fester for years, often decades. As the urgent blame-game goes around and round its important to recognise that this is a failure of the entire political class. Elite rule has failed.
We have known for years (decades) the need to transition to renewable energy, and we have failed to do it, because to do so would mean confronting the corporate power of the fossil fuel industry. We have known for years (decades) that we need to have an energy descent plan, but we failed to do it, because energy was privatised and seen as a means of profit, not a public need, and anyway we needed to be sold loads more gadgets to keep us occupied. We have known for years (decades) that fuel poverty was a massive issue in our part of cold northern Europe, and we needed to secure energy costs and insulate peoples homes and maximise fuel efficiency, but we have failed to do it because we don’t really care that much about climate change and it was only the really poor who suffered, so, who cares?
These problems have escalated and been left because they were too difficult. Dealing with them would have meant challenging corporate power and private greed – and pouring resource into society and addressing massive structural inequality. That’s not something any political party really cared about, and we, now facing the perfect storm of socio-economic meltdown, went along with it. We are complicit with the endless triangulation, lies, propaganda and the obvious contradictions that we could have low taxes and high public services, that we could afford to let companies and ‘high-end’ individuals haemorrhage taxation offshore in industrial-scale tax evasion. The private good-public bad orthodoxy of the past forty years lies broken and battered, a dead meme, a broken mantra exposed as a lie.
As Labour Liberal and Tory politicians crouched in front of the bins in the Grassmarket trying desperately to capitalise on SNP failure the following facts remain true. Yes Scotland has restrictions on borrowing power; yes the Scottish Government has a finite budget; yes the 3.5% pay offer was derisory and yes 5% not much more, but it’s also true that failure to reform the Council tax has starved local authorities of resources.
The political blame is shared. It cannot be stuck like the tail on the donkey on one single party or government. This is a crisis and a farce that has long been coming and for which blame needs to be shared.
Frontline workers, who were given brief and grudging recognition during the pandemic, have been sidelined, ostracised and under-paid for too long. Hard-working teachers, nursery staff, binmen, train staff, nurses and public sector workers have been stuck on low wages as the cost of living spirals. We live in a society where essential workers, those who clean up after you, get you to work safe, wipe your granny’s bum and teach your child – are treated with contempt – while those in peripheral work, whose labour you wouldn’t miss for a second if they didn’t exist, are exulted and paid handsomely. It’s crazy and it can’t continue.
We have now reached the perfect storm after years of intransigence and political failure.
But we still talk as if everything is transitory. We still talk about ‘fixes’ and ‘policies’ which will alleviate hardship. The whole narrative about what we are experiencing is deluded.
The Conservatives announce plans to dole out hundreds of pounds to offset the very worst impacts of fuel-poverty, Labour talks of ‘one-off windfall taxes’, But the problem is systemic and chronic, not passing and temporary. This is the culmination of political failure not just the by-product of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We have normalised extremes of inequality and got used to foodbanks. We have allowed whole communities to be disfigured by poverty and shamed and brutalised people through the benefits system, all while cherishing and deifying the propertied classes. Now millions face poverty for the very first time. The system is broken and it’s time now for revolt not party-political point scoring. We need to change the system not elect a different party.
The socio-ecological collapse we are living through is a system failure, of that there is no doubt. But we are complicit in this. We want to live in a magic world where we watch the breakdown unfold but wish for no change to happen. We don’t want to stop flying, we don’t want to stop driving, we want to eat whatever we like wherever we live at whatever time of year. We elect politicians who lie to our faces and explain that nothing really needs to change at all. Let’s ban plastic straws.
Shocking new analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the average low-income family will pay four and a half times more for energy in 2023/24 compared to 2021/22, based on the latest forecasts for energy bills.
Some will have it worse than others. Nearly three quarters of households which include a person with a disability have been pushed into debt this year because of increases to energy and food prices, according to Richard Kramer, chief executive of the charity Sense.
Single parents will hand over almost two thirds of their income after housing costs, creating a very real risk that their children will go hungry. And some single adults will see their finances wiped out by stratospheric energy bills that make up almost 120% of their income after housing costs, leaving many destitute – forced to cut down on energy just to meet bills, with “no money whatsoever left over for food or other essentials”.
As if living on another planet Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi today said on energy consumption: “The reality is that we should all look at our energy consumption. It is a difficult time.”