Lurking in the background of the Tory leadership contest, the cost of living crisis rumbles on. With Autumn round the corner, fears over the sharp rise in the energy price cap have once again hit the headlines, inflation continues to soar and ever more people are wondering how they’re going to pay their bills.
In recent days, to the sound of muted trumpets, the government launched its latest initiative to tackle the crisis: Help for Households. Billed as a partnership scheme with businesses such as supermarkets and entertainment venues, the scheme boasts a variety of deals over the summer period designed to help out struggling households.
Announcing the scheme, outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemed to be patting himself on the back: ‘We’re facing incredibly tough global economic headwinds and families across the country are feeling the pinch. That’s why this government is providing an unprecedented £37 billion worth of support to help households through the storm.
‘Both the public and private sector have a role to play here – and that’s why it’s great to see so many leading UK businesses are now coming forward to offer new deals and discounts that will provide much needed respite at the checkout.’
Candidly he added: ‘This won’t solve the issue overnight but it’s yet another weapon in our arsenal as we fight back against the scourge of rising prices and inflation.’
But hang on a minute. None of the £37 billion Johnson mentions is going towards this scheme – indeed, while welcome, it is instead financing measures such as the energy bill and council tax rebates announced in May.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s laudable that businesses are stepping in to do their bit to help and ease the financial burden for families, particularly during the school holidays when support such as free school meals ceases. But for the government to take credit for the contributions of the private sector is disingenuous to say the least.
Notwithstanding the fact this makes the government’s role in this nothing more than some sort of savings comparison site, it exposes the glaring disconnect that so blatantly exists between the government and those who are worst off, and even those who aren’t.
For one, many of these deals already existed: Morrison’s offer allowing kids to eat for free in their cafes alongside any adult meal over £4.50 also ran last summer; Sainsbury’s ‘Feed Your Family For a Fiver’ launched in 2008.
Secondly, when an increasing number of households will be forced into fuel poverty and faced with decisions such as whether to eat or heat their homes in the coming months, does the government genuinely believe that, even if theatres are offering free child tickets, those most in need of help could afford to prance off to the West End for a show?
As the cost of living crisis becomes progressively acute, serious government intervention is needed. Genuine solutions to keep more money in people’s pockets are needed. Heralding a bunch of high street discounts as the answer quite frankly won’t cut it.
Of course, with Johnson out the No.10 door by early September at the latest, this will no longer be his problem, but that of whoever becomes his successor. The next PM and their government will have a gargantuan, unenviable task ahead of them. But whatever they choose to do, they must do better than this.
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