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Social Justice

Man on hunger strike pleads with the government to ‘wake up’ to the cost of living crisis

“If we don’t fight back, or if the politicians don’t tackle the situation, we’re going to have to train ourselves to skip meals.”

Prabdheep Singh is on his fourth day without food. It’s searingly hot, and he is surviving on huge bottles of water and the support of his family. Despite having already lost 5kg, he is unwaveringly positive. He is on a hunger strike – a desperate call to the government to act as the cost of living crisis spirals.

“If we don’t fight back,” Singh says, “or if the politicians don’t tackle the situation, we’re going to have to train ourselves to skip meals. We’ll be having to survive on a meal a day, or a meal every alternate day. This is a symbolic approach. It’s not about gaining empathy or sympathy. It’s to show the people that this will be our future if we don’t fight.”

Millions of people across the country have no choice but to go hungry. The most recent study by the Food Foundation revealed 2.4 million adults in the UK went a whole day without eating in April. 

Food is often the first essential cut when money gets tight, and many are facing unprecedented pressures with the soaring costs of energy bills. In their masses, people have shared harrowing experiences of going hungry and being unable to pay their bills.

Singh was particularly riled by the story of Elsie, a 77-year-old who can only afford a meal a day. Elsie became a symbol of the cost of living crisis early in May, when she told Good Morning Britain she spent her days riding warm buses so she doesn’t have to pay to heat her home. 

Elsie is agonisingly far from alone, and Singh felt he could no longer sit and watch people suffer. He had to take action. The British army veteran, who now works as a cab driver, is spending each day and night of his week-long hunger strike camping outside Reading station. 

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“I’m hearing so many stories,” he says. This morning, he met a woman who claims universal credit. She said she is hardly able to survive and she feels utterly hopeless. She told Singh she would rather go to prison for not paying her bills so that her stomach can be full, rather than stay in the outside world. 

“That really touched me,” Singh says: “If people start thinking like that, that prison is a better place to live, then there’s no way of coming back.”

Earlier this year, the energy price cap was £1,277 – meaning companies couldn’t charge you any more than that for your gas and electricity bills. Ofgem increased this to £1,970 in April, and it is expected to rise to an enormous £3,582.02 this October.

Forecasts released this week from the consultancy Cornwall Insight suggest the price cap could reach as high as £4,266.48 in January. That’s well over triple the average person paid before April this year. 

“These companies are making billions,” Singh says. “Politicians are looking after their oligarchy friends. If they don’t put a windfall tax on them while people are finding it harder and harder to survive, it’s like saying: ‘I’ll scratch your back and you’ll scratch my back.’”

Singh has a large support system, including from his family. Image: Fight2Survive

Four days into his hunger strike, Singh remains in high spirits. Born in Punjab, India, he credits his Sikh faith and his experience in the army for helping him survive without food. “My stomach is empty but my spirit is up,” he says. “When you have willpower, and you know that you have to fight, you can do it.”

He adds that his wife and two children have been very supportive. “They come down here,” he says. “They sit with me. I’ve only been able to do it because I have the support of my wife. If I didn’t have a supportive partner, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Singh has a set of demands for the government – and he says the hunger strike is just phase one of his new campaign, which he calls Fight 2 Survive. After this week, he is hoping to organise a mass cycle ride with hundreds of people heading to Downing Street to show the government: “It’s time to wake up.”

He wants ministers to introduce a windfall tax, release VAT from fuel and energy bills, increase basic pay rates and change government policy to prioritise vulnerable people.

“A change of face is not going to help,” Singh says as he scoffs at Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss’ campaigns. “Changing the policy in favour of common people would help. We are not interested in watching the leadership race, which will just give us a simple change of face. We need a change of policy.”

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