It is has been difficult years since the pandemic, and if you look back a little more, even a difficult decade. It seems we have been on the ‘back foot’ for the last 14 years since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and in real terms, our living standards have actually decreased. You can look at all the headlines and news to see some really fearful facts and predictions on the economic situation in the UK, and other parts of the world. There seems to be a volatile time for the markets, costs of living and our own personal financial stability. Employers, retailers, manufacturers, consumers and everyone have been impacted by price increases – there are supply chain issues that get locked, and all this weights down on all of us. I will try to look at this from a very top level on how I see this manifested in our everyday lives. I am not an economist (only I studied economics at secondary level in the Caribbean), but I do know that data, information, research and knowledge have a crucial part in making sure that we think smartly, carefully and collectively on how best to survive this crisis.
“With cost-of-living pressures likely to become unbearable for thousands of households and rents continuing to rise at pace, the challenge is sustaining progress and continuing to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough. The Government must urgently turn its attention to ensuring we have enough genuinely affordable homes if it is to keep its promise.”
– Matt Downie, Chief Executive at Crisishttps://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/philanthropy/philanthropy-bulletins/the-cost-of-living-crisis-how-we-are-supporting-our-members/
In my recent years, what seemed like comfortable and optimistic years of the internet boom and progressive years of a new millennium are now becoming one of the most challenging times as we go through a period of financial hardship and scarcity. One aspect that makes me annoyed is the cost of homes and properties. In the last 20 years, properties have increased about 800% in my neighbour alone, and the last 10 years it inflated the most at 300%. You just have to walk around London to see lots of new homes going up due to the demand for ‘affordable’ housing to meet demands, but the cost of them are outrageous due to lack of supply and availability! Basic economics.
In addition, even rented homes are being outbid in the city! Young people in London are really f*cked if they want to live here. It is even harder for young people who live in London. If you live in the city, your grown-up children will find it hard to live close to you for the near future. Most likely you will have to move out to the commuter belt towns to be able to afford somewhere to rent, much more so to buy you own place. I know that some other major cities and even little Trinidad have seen rises in the prices of homes. It seems to be the ever-relevant story of the ‘have and have nots’, and you can really can see the vast differences in inequalities and access to liveable properties, which makes me sad. There are warning reports to say that there will be a large increase in homelessness for those who cannot afford their homes, especially as interest rates and rent rises. This is only the tip of the iceberg!
The next major concern is the true impact of the cost-of-living crisis on real pay. Inflation is sky high and this is having a detrimental effect on basic needs such as food, transportation, energy and essential goods that we need to get by. The only reassurance is that this is affecting everyone (except the filthy rich), but some will be able to be resilient and rely on their rainy-day savings. I presume everyone is tightening their belts and watching their household budgets.
Being a business librarian, I have been providing cost of living information for almost 30 years to library users and I have some authoritative sources that I look at such as the EIU, UBS, WEF and other organisations that analyse how living standards compare around the world for competitiveness, purchasing power parity and economic outlook. These are easily sourced on the internet now, but I used to provide this information by telephone, or from hard copy, such as in this ONS chart below. I do feel worried that we are seeing these cost of living changes that are having negative impacts on everyone – even the bankers!
The price wars are on in the supermarkets as the cost-of-living crisis takes hold on prices of food necessities. There are scarcity, supply chain and logistics issues anyway caused by Brexit, and more recently by the conflict in Ukraine (which we should not use as an excuse). It seems food banks have increased in greater numbers as people need that extra support to sustain their basic needs as they struggle with poverty, low income and high costs. There are several food banks in my neighbourhood now, and I saw a sign this summer in the very affluent Richmond neighbourhood near Kew Gardens, where you can pledge money to food banks. Weekly I know that the cost of my groceries is higher, and I try to make smart choices or leave a few things that may not be necessary to make sure that my food bill is not overwhelming.
The retail price index is measured to let us know how inflation is affecting us – when I worked for accountants and management consultants before the internet, this was one of the main indicators of consumer spending and economic situation. There is also the ‘shopping basket’ and organisations such as the Food Foundation that keep track of the prices of food goods. The Food Foundation has various initiatives such as End Child Poverty, Right2Food, Early Years and other initiatives to prevent food insecurity. There are millions of children who receive free meals at schools and in the holidays. This is really sad in one of the richest countries of the world. I know there are vast levels of inequality but perhaps due to high levels in populations and other factors that makes this perpetuate, such as opportunities for social mobility, regular work, education and training, and various societal issues.
This leads to my next point of living with low wages and high costs – see article here. Salaries are still relatively lower in some public sectors compared to the private sector, and it seems to be stagnated in real terms in the recent years with austerity and bad government. It has gotten to the point where it is embarrassing if you were to benchmark salaries with another sector and country. I remember providing all this information to library users in printed format in my previous roles. It all reflects on countries or a sector’s competitiveness to attract and keep the best talent. Sadly, we know that we are in a bad state, and it is hard to see the light at the end of tunnel unless you physically get up and leave. There seems to be a sense of paralysis as there is so little that one can do. I hope this situation does not last another decade but these pressures on prices and costs for businesses and organisations are a real killjoy. Thinking positively, it is likely to be the time when employees and employers appreciate their experiences, workforce and workplace to help create positive change that benefits everyone.
Coincidently, industrial action such as strikes are back on the transport system, and trade unions are busy bargaining for employees and professions. I recently thought of the 2000s where I saw several anti-capitalist marches on the roads in the city of London where I worked. These marches don’t seem to happen so often anymore apart from solidarity with worker’s political parties. Let’s hope there will be a true negotiation for better pay and standards for employees, and that our leaders would understand that this year more than most is going to be a very though one!
There are other aspects of our current lives that definitely show that the cost of living is getting more expensive. My petrol bill is at least £20.00 more than in recent years, but thankfully I don’t use my car often. I also know that travel costs across London will rise most likely in the new year. I do feel to run away at times to a remote island, but I certainly do not recommend that we bury our heads in the sand. As I write, the news reporter mentioned that “this is a new age of austerity”. God help us as I still remember the last one!
Do stay informed, vigilant, healthy and wise on how we can support each other in these terrible times of crisis.