Hands up if you’re surprised at the following. A year ago when escalating energy and interest costs (after the Liz Truss fiasco) sent the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) soaring it was claimed to be outside the government’s ability to control. Both those costs remain at historic highs, but because the rate of increase has slowed, CPI has dropped. The government has had as little to do with the drop as it had with the rise, but it is of course seeking to take the credit. At least it looks like one of Rishi’s pledges may be met, albeit no thanks to him!
One of the other pledges is to ‘grow the economy’. UK productivity lags behind most of our economic rivals, due to underinvestment, the shrinking workforce and low export growth. Both of the latter can be directly attributed to Brexit. Worrying noises are being made about forcing benefits recipients back into work. The suggestion is that many who are physically and mentally fit choose to be subsidised by the public purse. But such people are undoubtedly in the minority, and grudging workers are unlikely to perform well. There are alternatives.
As of June there were 175,457 asylum claimants awaiting a decision, of which 139,961 had been waiting more than six months- at considerable cost to the tax payer. The majority of these are young fit men who are desperate to get jobs and start rebuilding their shattered lives. The racially motivated far right accuse them of ‘taking our jobs’- yet employers across a vast range of businesses are desperate for workers.
Then let’s consider NHS waiting lists. As of September, despite Rishi’s pledge to reduce it, the waiting list for hospital treatment had risen to nearly 7.8 million. Part of this is because of bed blocking by patients who are fit to go home but cannot get a care package. Many of the 7.8m will not be members of the workforce, and others will be able to at least partially fulfil their employment whilst on the waiting list. But among the 7.8m there will undoubtedly be many hundreds of thousands whose lives are on hold while they await the treatment that will release them back to work.
In light of the shocking revelations from the Covid Enquiry, it is pertinent to note that around 1.5m people are suffering from Long Covid. The symptoms and impact vary for each individual but many are unable to work. The Enquiry is highlighting just how chaotic was the government’s handling of Covid, and I am sure we were all appalled to hear that Rishi Sunak’s ill-conceived ‘Eat out to help out’ initiative was launched without any discussion with scientists.
Growing the economy is vitally important. But the government should not seek to deny its own responsibilities and just bully people back to work.
Cllr Kathryn Field