The phrase ‘cost-of-living crisis’ comes nowhere close to portraying the catastrophe facing millions of us.
Living standards plummet. Babies go without food and fresh nappies, and even die of mould exposure. Children go to school with empty stomachs. Parents exhaust themselves working, yet still have to choose between heating or eating. Thousands of people are going into this winter not knowing whether they will be able to pay the bills.
This is the reality of the ‘cost-of-living’ crisis, where workers are confronted with despair, desperation, and death. Meanwhile, the super-rich sit back happily in their warm mansions, getting fat off of the wealth produced by the working class.
Anger is growing against these injustices. Consciousness is being shaken up. Many are increasingly declaring that enough is enough.
Hunger and desperation
The scourge of inflation is rapidly impoverishing millions. In October, inflation officially stood at 11.1%, the highest level in over 40 years. Domestic gas and electricity bills are up 96% and 54% respectively in the 12 months to August 2022.
Comparing prices from September 2021 to September 2022, the cost of everyday staples has increased dramatically. Vegetable oil is up 65%, with chips and bread up by nearly 40%.
The price of one of the most popular meals in the country – a bowl of tomato pasta – has risen by 58%. This has all combined to make feeding a family an insurmountable task for many people.
In a recent BBC Panorama documentary, Robby, co-founder of Fans Supporting Foodbanks, described what he sees at a foodbank in Walton, Liverpool – England’s most deprived constituency. He said:
“I’ve never seen it [food poverty] this bad in my lifetime…About 60% of people who come here are in in-work poverty. The wages aren’t enough to keep them warm at home and feed them as well. We’ve had postmen here, firefighters, nurses, and loads of pensioners…We’re now feeding 7,000 people a month…It’s catastrophic.”
Thanks to @BBCPanorama for highlighting the rapid rise in food costs.We cannot have good health without nutritious food. People who are in work,including NHS nurses, are regularly skipping meals. Are we ready to accept malnutrition as new normal? We cannot accept this pic.twitter.com/V6llAizXzM— Farzana Hussain (@fhussain73) November 14, 2022
Rising food prices have plunged millions into food poverty, with the cost of an average annual shop increasing by £682 in just the month of October alone.
Hunger levels have therefore doubled since January of this year. Nearly four million children and 10 million adults are deprived of the ability to eat regular meals. And in recent months, millions have been forced to skip meals or go a whole day without eating.
A recent poll of teachers by food charity Chefs in Schools has found that school children are so hungry they are stealing each other’s snacks, as well as eating erasers to keep themselves full.
Teachers reported how children often get turned away from the dinner queue since they are unable to pay for their meals. And while some children have to make do with a measly slice of bread to tide them over, others are so hungry they have to be stopped from eating pots of glue.
The result is that children are effectively being starved out of their education, as they are too hungry to concentrate.
Socialist Appeal spoke to a worker from a school in a deprived area of Merseyside, where the crisis has taken a heavy toll. They stated that “you have people who had donated to our foodbank out of what little they had spare, now coming to ask for food parcels”.
They went on to say that this has led to increased demand, at the same time as dwindling donations. This is raising fears that the foodbank – like many others across the country – will not be able to meet the needs of the community, leaving some to simply starve. This reflects the crisis that charitable organisations are facing nationally.
The cost-of-living crisis is even depriving newborns of a stable start to life. Instead, many babies are born into poverty and torment.
Little Village, a charity that supplies essentials such as nappies, cots, and clothes to families in poverty in London, told the Mirror that they have seen a “vast upswing in grim situations and horrible circumstances” facing families.
These have included parents having to ration their use of nappies, or even reuse dirty ones – leading to babies developing sores. They have even seen a return of babies sleeping in drawers, as parents cannot afford a cot to put them in.
This is why the tragic, scandalous death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak due to mouldy living conditions has struck a chord with ordinary people across the country. After all, an estimated 120,000 families in social housing in England face similar risks.
Some parents have turned to stealing baby formula to prevent their children from becoming malnourished. This has led to branches of Boots replacing full boxes of formula on display with empty ones, with the real ones placed behind counters to prevent theft.
The real theft being perpetrated in society, however, is by the capitalists, who are stealing the future of the next generation.
Britain is truly being taken back to the 1930s. This is the best capitalism now has to offer for millions of people: a world where workers and children are just expendable units that are dragged into squalor and anguish as the system stumbles from crisis to crisis.
Drug and alcohol abuse
Societal decay is becoming deeply rooted in Britain as people increasingly, and tragically, turn to drink and drugs to cope with the stress caused by the crisis.
The forecasting of a ‘human catastrophe’ has been confirmed by recent research that found 2.1 million people have recently increased their alcohol use. 61% of these stated that rising prices provoked their turn to alcohol.
As one recovery worker concluded: “Unfortunately, things like the cost-of-living crisis mean people are going to go back to substance use.”
Sadly, there is no solace to be found at the bottom of a bottle in times like these. People may escape the daily misery of capitalism for a moment. But it will come back to bite even harder once the fog has lifted.
The cost-of-living crisis is here to stay under capitalism. And with this, the affliction of addiction will continue to spread in working-class communities, destroying families in the process.
People are trying to do what they can to keep bills as low as possible. But no amount of rearranging furniture or plugging drafts is enough to offset the rising prices.
Even having nothing switched on isn’t enough to keep costs down. Standing charges alone mean that ordinary households will feel the pinch, even with all the lights out.
Many elderly people have no choice but to sit in cold, dark, silent rooms, unable to afford to have the electricity or gas running. Others – such as 77 year old Elsie in London, whose energy bill went from £17 to £85 a month – are using their bus passes to ride buses all day to stay warm.
‘Warm banks’ – community venues where people can keep warm if they cannot afford to have the heating on – have begun to pop up in response to this crisis. 450 warm banks have already been opened nationally, with plans to launch many more. This shows the sheer scale of the crisis unravelling before us.
But we should not have to rely on charity to survive. If the energy monopolies and banks were nationalised under democratic workers’ control, everyone could be alleviated from fuel poverty.
An elderly couple told us that: “We are just going to have to sit with blankets over us and drink hot drinks. Our pensions are not enough to keep the heating on.” This couple are not resorting to this measure lightly, as one of them has a chronic respiratory condition that will worsen in the cold.
The number of ‘excess winter deaths’ already stood at 63,000 last year. That figure will no doubt increase this winter.
More people than ever face the possibility of freezing and starving to death in the dark in their own homes. Combined with the spread of addiction and the intensification of austerity, it is clear that the Tories are presiding over a mass culling of the working class.
Frederick Engels coined the term ‘social murder’ to describe a situation where people reach an untimely end owing to poverty and the depravity of their living conditions. This phrase, once used in relation to the barbaric conditions of Dickensian England, is more relevant today than ever.
What makes this completely unforgivable is that these deaths are completely avoidable, given the resources that exist in society. It is us, our friends, and our families who will be sent to an early grave by capitalism, which has no qualms sacrificing ordinary people in its insatiable pursuit of profit.
Workers are no doubt taking note of the polarisation between themselves and the rich. The consciousness of the masses is being transformed as millions are forced to live in barbaric conditions.
More and more are concluding that they cannot go on living like this. Society is becoming a tinderbox, primed for an explosion.
Capitalism has created its own gravediggers, who are increasingly reaching revolutionary conclusions – namely, that the system needs to be overthrown, before it destroys the working class.