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Cost of Living: Let's not lose our sense of outrage

by Derek Mitchell, CAS Chief Executive.

This column was first published in the Herald on 16 May 2022.

It wasn’t just the titular monarch that was missing from the Queen’s Speech last week. Absent too was anything significant aimed at tackling the most obvious problem of the day, namely the cost of living crisis.

I’m beginning to get concerned that the repeated headlines about this crisis are breeding a sense of resignation. We’re all vulnerable to this. Battered as we are by endless headlines about poverty, you can begin to think, yes it’s very sad, but it’s just what it is, it can’t be fixed. 

We must not let that happen with this cost of living crisis. It’s too serious and its impact is reaching far beyond anything we’ve seen before. Energy prices alone skyrocketed by 54% in April, and further increases are expected later in the year.

Yet social security rates increased by only 3% – and that’s after they were cut by £20 a week last year. And don’t forget, this crisis comes hard off the back of a pandemic that played havoc on the finances of so many. It’s no surprise people can’t make ends meet.

The proper reaction to these headlines is a sense of outrage and a desire for action. No matter how many such stories we see, we mustn’t fall into the trap of losing that outrage, or that sense of purpose to do something about it.  

And that’s what was missing from the Queen’s Speech. There was no sense of urgency, and no detailed measures that would put cash into peoples’ pockets.

According to the speech, the government’s main weapon to meet the crisis is tax cuts. But these will do very little for those on low incomes, and nothing at all for those at the very bottom who pay no tax at all. 

The government can argue that tax cuts will mean a stronger economy in the future. But people are in crisis right now. We needed to see bolder choices in the speech. Real efforts on protecting and boosting incomes, social security and fair work.

It’s important to understand the scale of this crisis. Around 500,000 people in Scotland have cut back on food shopping to deal with unaffordable energy bills, and that was before the increase to the price cap in April.

Advisers across the CAB network are seeing the impact of the cost of living crisis every day.

Last week CAS published our network advice data for March. What we found is that even before bills soared in April people were really concerned about the cost of living.

In terms of our online advice pages, concern around landlords increasing rent is now eight times higher than at the start of the pandemic. In March alone page views saw a 48 per cent increase. In addition to this, page views for online advice around food banks and crisis support now almost double that of March 2021.

Across our network demand for debt advice is close to pre-pandemic levels, and demand for advice around energy is actually higher than it was then. These problems are only going to get worse as this crisis deepens.

In the Queens Speech they should have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. It is bitterly disappointing that this was missing.