IT IS very hard to imagine what it is like to live in poverty. Especially if you have never experienced it. The feeling of being hungry but having no way to satisfy your craving. The fear of putting on the heating knowing that you cannot afford the inevitable bill. And the sheer desperation of wanting, just occasionally, to have a night out and knowing that you simply cannot afford it. It is not living. It is existing.
When politicians talk blithely of helping the poor, what they often mean is helping them into a job that does not exist. It has been a while since I was unemployed, but I still remember vividly the scorn of people with jobs telling me that there were hundreds of jobs if only I bothered to look. As if I did not spend most days trudging around the factories where I lived asking for work and getting no offers.
I was lucky. I was young during that period and had only myself to support. Many of those I met during that period were not so lucky. I remember once going to the house of somebody I had met through the Unemployed Union and finding it bereft of furniture, all of which had been sold to pay bills. He sat on a box and cried, as he explained that he had been made redundant after 20 odd years in the same job. He received no redundancy pay and was thrust into a world of social security that he had not even known existed. He could see no future for himself or his family.
Politicians, on both sides of the Atlantic, are congratulating themselves because inflation is not rising as fast as predicted. But if you take a look at the table below it tells a story of real desperation.
On the face of it, what it says is that just 13 items have risen in price from £13.43 in May to £16.63 this week. A rise of £3.20 – the price of a latte in Starbucks. That represents an increase of 23.8%. Forget about 10.7% over a year, that is double that in just 9 months.
But in monitoring these items I have learned a lot about the cost of living and how it rises. When this or that politician talks about 10.7% inflation, they always give the impression that everything, across the board, has risen by that amount. I always knew that wasn’t the case. But monitoring these items has shown that politicians, not surprisingly, have not the first clue how inflation rises or even how it is measured.
Only one item of the 13 chosen has not risen at all. That is Aldi’s budget pizza. So if you want to avoid food inflation simply live on pizza! There have only been 6 weeks in the past 32 where there were no price rises at all. And, here’s the thing, and don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before because it bears repeating. Each week one or two items rise by a small amount. This week, for example, Bramwell’s Cream of Tomato Soup went up by 5p. That’s not much, many people will think. And they would be right. But that represents a 20% increase since May. That’s right, twice the official inflation rate.
Aldi’s Everyday Essentials range tend to be relatively stable. Their own brand spaghetti hoops for example have been 16p for 26 weeks, but have still risen by 23% since May. Staple foods such as cheese have risen by 42% from £1.89 for 500g in May to £2.69 this week. Fresh skimmed milk is up from 95p in May to £1.30 now, a rise of 36.8%.
These rises, in and of themselves, are not much. And, if you are a canny shopper, you can often find alternatives which are a bit cheaper. But why should poor people spend half their lives foraging (for that is what it amounts to) for cheaper food goods? Why should these people not be able to go to a supermarket and buy the goods they need each week without worrying about how much it is going to cost? If its good enough for Rishi Sunak or Sir Keir Starmer, why is it not good enough for them?
That is what this basket of goods means. It is not just an academic exercise in monitoring how prices change and rise (though rarely fall), but it is a commentary – and a very sad one – on the lives of some of our fellow citizens who are denied opportunities, opportunities that those who are so quick to lecture them take for granted.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.