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Tories are gloating that cost of living crisis is over – they're wrong: 'The country is going backwards'

Just one in seven people think their living standards are improving this year, according to new polling from Trade Union Congress (TUC) and YouGov

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People are missing out on vital support which could be a lifeline in helping them cope in the aftermath of the cost of living crisis. Image: Unsplash

Break out the bunting: the cost of living crisis is nearly over. At least that’s what some politicians in Westminster seems to think.

The Conservative government’s health minister Andrea Leadsom recently boasted that the UK is “seeing the cost of living crisis end”. “That’s obviously cheered everyone up”, she beamed, pointing to falling inflation figures. Prime minister Rishi Sunak claims that the economy has “turned a corner”.

It comes as inflation in the UK fell to 2.3% – its lowest level in years, but still short of the Bank of England’s 2% target.

But the optimistic messaging of government will likely “ring hollow” with the vast majority of the population, experts have warned.

According to new Trade Union Congress figures, just one in seven people think their living standards are improving this year.

A poll of 2,137 adults – carried out for the Trades Union Congress (TUC) by YouGov – shows that one in four (38%) think their living standards have got worse in 2024.

Overall, nearly six in 10 (58%) respondents think their living standards have got worse or there has been no change and their living standards “were bad before and still are”.

In this economic situation, politicians shouldn’t sound too optimistic, says Nick Turnbull, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester.

“It’s a real mistake to try and paint an overly positive picture,” he told the Big Issue.

“It comes across as out of touch. It makes the government seem as though it doesn’t care – or indeed that it doesn’t have any idea. People don’t expect government to magically improve things, but political rhetoric that makes it look like you’re not listening is the worst kind.”

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People are struggling to afford thing as prices remain high. Four in 10 (42%) said they have cut back on essentials such as groceries and utilities this year, while 60% said they have reduced other spending, such as on eating out.

In this context, the Tories shouldn’t engage in “boosterism”, Turnbull says. This is the practise of enthusiastically praising something – regardless of how good it really is – to persuade people of its merits.

“Boosterism in inappropriate contexts really doesn’t work,” he explained. “You just can’t realistically hold the line and say, our cost of living crisis is over. The bottom third of the population is not going to say the cost of living crisis is over. Even Conservative voters on strong incomes who have families are finding things expensive.”

“It really looks bad in this environment. That’s why most governments collapse – people no longer believe them.”

Indeed, the TUC figures show that nearly a third (32%) of people who voted Conservative in the 2019 election believe that their living standards have worsened.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak described the polling as a “damning indictment” of the government’s record.

“This polling shows how out of touch this Conservative government is with people’s struggles,” he said. “The reason this cost of living crisis has hit families so hard is because wages have flatlined over the last 14 years.”

Inflation falling is not the end of the cost of living crisis

The electorate appears increasingly disillusioned with the government’s ability to tackle issues that matter to voters.

Last year, New Britain Project polling showed that three-fifths of voters believe “nothing in Britain works anymore”. Only a fifth believe politicians have the ability to solve the UK’s biggest issues. 

Overly positive spin just heightens this distrust, Anna McShane, New Britain director.  

“People feel that the country is going backwards, and everything is going backwards,” she said. “It might seem like it’s in the government’s interests to say that we’ve turned a corner, that the cost of living crisis is ending, but it just alienates most people. Most families are still living day to day, and worrying about whether something will take them over the edge.”

Inflation is not the only metric of people’s quality of life, she stressed. Even if inflation does fall, the state of the NHS and other public services means people feel as though everything is broken.

“When politicians say everything is going well, people just aren’t going to believe it until they see some tangible change,” she said.

This applies to Labour, as well as the Conservatives, she added. New Britain polling shows that just 14% of voters think politicians prioritise national interests, and just 21% think they have the capability to resolve pressing issues. That’s why Keir Starmer’s six pledges aren’t particularly ambitious, McShane said.

“The public just feel that politicians are just full of empty words, empty promises, they’re not going to believe anything until it happens.”

In this atmosphere of disillusionment, over-promising and over-optimism are a dangerous strategy. Particularly for the party in power.

“Until people are actually materially better off. I don’t think they’ve [the Conservative Party] got any hope,” Turnbull said. “They can say all they like that the cost of living crisis is solved, but it clearly hasn’t been… people see through it.”

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