The rise in living costs will impact vulnerable communities the hardest

Over the last two years, capitalism has been in crisis. It has struggled to justify the parasitic relationship it has with our lives and the planet. Covid-19 has shocked and exposed the foundations of capitalism. As society attempts to return to a pre-covid existence, workers are faced with another existential threat to their daily lives: the cost of living has skyrocketed, and for many, this will plunge their households into disarray and poverty. Ordinary families prepare to tighten their belts once again, it is the most marginalised and vulnerable within our society that will bear the brunt of the cost of living increasing.

UK inflation has risen to 7% in the 12 months leading up to March, seeing an increase from 6.2% in February. In addition, energy prices have soared and have been forecasted to remain above £2000, constituting a 54% rise in energy bills, further compounding the gravity of the increase of inflation. Huge energy giants such as Shell have reported making a profit of £14.7 billion all whilst dodging paying tax on its UK oil and gas production. Households across the country are experiencing a material decline in living standards on an unprecedented scale, coupled with insecure working conditions and housing, cuts to benefits and stagnant wages; the reliance on food banks and of course, Covid; the pressure placed on households is felt tremendously. 

However, when considering the damaging impact this will have on the working class, we must also consider how this will be felt by minoritised and vulnerable communities. The pandemic has already exposed this nexus of unequal treatment in society, resulting in the disproportionate deaths of black and brown workers due to covid who predominantly work in front line or key worker positions. Research has shown, in particular, the impact of Covid-19 on health care workers, whereby black and brown staff represent 21% of the NHS workforce but have also accounted for a staggering 63% of deaths. The cost of living crisis cannot be viewed in isolation, as it would be erroneous to presume that the impact of such increases will be felt equally. Overcrowded housing, for example, is more likely to occur in the household of ethnic minorities, as well as multigenerational households; 30% of Bangladeshi households and 15% of Black African households are overcrowded, in conjunction with the fact that more than half of the UK’s Black children live in poverty, as result of structural racism. Such disparities will only be further exacerbated by the increase in living costs and housing insecurity and precariousness. 

In addition, those with disabilities will also feel the burden of the rise in living costs. Much of the discourse surrounding Covid-19 further exemplified that we live in a deeply discriminatory and violent society, one that saw the prominence of a eugenics based discourse enter the public debate. This brand of philosophy advocated for herd immunity and the isolation of people with disabilities from wider society. With the cuts to universal credit, we will see more and more people fall into poverty. The inhumanity of these cuts further demonstrates the utter contempt for the vulnerable that the UK government has. State support has been heavily reduced over the last decade, resulting in a sustained onslaught on the lives of disabled people.

The rise in living costs, much like austerity measures, are political choices made by the capitalist elites. They should be understood as state-sanctioned violence aimed at the withdrawal of aid and support from the state. Cuts to public funding have a disastrous effect on the already vulnerable. When considering that the population has been subjected to over 10 years of austerity measures, living conditions are further worsened and aggravated. In the book,’ The Violence of Austerity,  austerity measures have resulted in suicides, evictions and deaths from illness. In a violent capitalist society, cuts to public aid are justified by arguing that austerity measures are the only viable option for a state to recover. This justification reorientates the decision of austerity from being a political decision to an ‘economic and technocratic necessity’. The rise in living costs, in effect, plunges the UK back into a new austerity as undoubtedly those most vulnerable will experience the worst decline in their living standards. Reframing the cost of living crisis as class warfare better equips us to highlight that these are political decisions aimed at insulating the UK’s wealthiest from having to contribute to wider society. Since Thatcher, neoliberalism has - in essence - gutted the labour movement, bogged down by bureaucracy and legislation that targets organising within the workplace as well as state-sanctioned raids administered by the MET police have enabled the establishment and employers from increasing the wages of workers.

Photo: Alamy

When addressing the rise in living standards, our demands must be at the forefront of political action. Wages must be increased to address these issues, minoritised communities in poorly paid, and hyper exploitative working conditions - often gig economy workers - must be at the centre of pay increases and benefit hikes. Profits have soared during the pandemic, but this has not translated into better pay for workers and better support for the vulnerable. The energy crisis must be addressed immediately, as those hit by the hikes will suffer the most, to address this, wages must be increased as this would better support workers and those caring for the vulnerable. Strong evidence suggests that the majority of adults support the idea of the public ownership of energy companies. This would suggest that there is already a strong base amongst adults to act upon such demands. It would, however, take a strong and robust government to sever its ties with capital and its donors to implement such popular demands. 

Due to the inherent nature of UK tax laws, the interests of capital are maintained and preserved. Those who have access to expensive lawyers are able to bypass their responsibility to wider society by avoiding paying tax, as posited by MP Zara Sultana, a windfall tax should be imposed by the government to address such disparities and to keep household bills down. 

Fuel poverty further exacerbates the pressing issue of declining living standards and has dominated recent political discourse.  Groups such as Insulate Britain have dominated news outlets due to their guerilla direct action tactics by blocking prominent motorways. Their aim: is to urge the government to insulate Britain’s homes to save thousands of lives and prevent economic and social collapse. Vilified and dehumanised by the state and general public, the demands of Insulate Britain seem tame in the face of the living crisis that will, unfortunately, claim the lives of thousands. Fuel poverty will undoubtedly worsen as time progresses, forcing, in particular, the elderly and disabled into greater despair. Grassroots movements were threatened with violence, and as a consequence; the public outrage was weaponized by the right to delegitimised the demands of the organisation.

However, we must remain optimistic during these pressing times. We have seen a massive mobilisation of grassroots organisations organising against state oppression, in the name of humanity and dignity. Organisers have taken to the street to prevent deportations of minoritised communities; resisted state violence administered by the police; organised ‘cop watch’  initiatives and even halted the production of arms manufacturers producing weapons to further brutalise Palestinians. These acts of mutual aid and resistance show us the power of collective organising and places power back into the hands of ordinary citizens and offers us a blueprint to building a better future.

Article written by Ashley Roach-McFarlane


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