Last week a woman rang Nicky Campbell’s radio show on BBC’s Radio 5 Live and burst into tears. And, frankly, it was hard not to do the same. Identified as Jane from Blackpool, she was talking about the cost of living crisis and the spiralling price of food. It had just been revealed that food prices were rising at their fastest rate for 45 years. Jane explained that she and her husband were in their sixties and both worked, but because of the cost of everything they were barely managing. They were eating jacket potatoes for dinner. Every night. There was no lunch. She said that now and again they’d have some cheese on the potato, if they were feeling flush. It’s all they can afford.
She didn’t shout or get angry, she calmly explained how things were, and then broke down. She and her husband were also now worried as there was a potential for mortgages to rise again as interest rates look set to go up. They may have by the time you read this.
As well as being at her wits’ end, Jane also felt shame. She said her husband would be heartbroken that she was on the phone talking about their situation. They didn’t expect to be as they are now. Jane should not feel shame. We should.
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Jane from Blackpool is obviously not alone. The messages that arrived following her testimony illustrated that. And while noises from government insist that bringing inflation down is their priority and that they’re doing all they can to lower the cost of living, the lived reality counters that rhetoric. There was a general agreement on that radio show from listeners that the political class just doesn’t get it. And while politicians still have to get their groceries in, they are insulated from real hardships, particularly the very wealthy running the country.
It’s time for us to say enough. What kind of low-slung hollowed-out echo of a life are we accepting for a growing number of people in Britain? Our shame at allowing this must be what triggers us to demand change. Lip service platitudes from a remote place that insist inflation is going to come down and everything will be all right are not funny any more. Time to press the emergency button.