Years ago I remember watching a film called How to Beat the High Cost of Living
It told the story of three plucky gals trying to ‘beat the system’ – an unholy alliance of government and big business – and raise a few laughs into the process.
The film was made in 1980, in a world reeling from the second oil crisis (1979) when the price of fuel shot up (as it did in 1973). No longer could the West rely on cheap raw materials and everything got more expensive.
I learnt about this back in the 80s when I did my Econmics A Level – obviously I now know that the rampaging inflation of the 70s had many causes, not least of all Richard Nixon printing loads of money to finance the Vietnam War. Also, in the UK we had the ill advised ‘Barber boom’ where credit restrictions were relaxed and people began to get the taste for plastic.
I guess the reason this movie came to mind is that we are now living through a time when the rising cost of living is increasingly an issue.
I go back to work tomorrow and in London a single bus fare now costs £1.40 (compared to 90 pence five years ago). Child benefit is on the way out for any household where someone earns more than £60,000 and if that wasn’t enough, the latest headlines suggest that we are looking at huge increases in the price of food – which again has shot up in price in the last five years.
Against this background of spiraling costs of essentials – don’t even get me started on the price of utilities – it’s really hard to know what to do (other than accept that any thoughts of disposable income are increasingly a mirage for the majority).
Obviously there is a lot of money in the economy – witnessed by the crazy rents and property prices in many parts of the UK and the rising cost of luxury items like designer clothes and private education.
But what about anyone who isn’t on big bucks?
Rather than ask WHY profiteering (speculation/tax avoidance etc) has pushed up the cost of essentials, the best the media can offer is twee articles about ‘not buying new clothes for a year’.
Saving £1200 in a year is pretty cool, but how much does the average family spend in a year on childcare? Or rent? Or mortgage payments? A saving of £1200 is approximately £20 a week, which is significant but paltry when one thinks of the cost of living.
Also, the idea of not buying any new clothes when you have several growing children is crazy. Yes, you can get by on hand me downs – up to a point. But have you ever seen a pair of trousers worn by a small boy without holes in? I can tell you now that they don’t exist – probably why a disproportionate amount of the clothes in charity shops are for girls.
If you have children new clothes are not a luxury. Or they shouldn’t be. We’re talking Asda here. Or Primark. Nothing pretentious.
I guess what I’m driving at is my frustration at the way we all just accept this decline in living standards as inevitable and the best we can do is suggest darning our clothes or swapping shoes with a friend (ridiculously expensive shoes in the case of the Guardian article).
What about the relative decline in wages? Or the monopoly capitalism of businesses like supermarkets or energy companies – one puts up prices and the others swiftly follow. What about the bank bailouts? What about tax avoidance?
The cost of living is a POLITICAL issue; politicians chose to subsidise the financial sector through Quantitative Easing but push the cost of childcare or public transport on to working people. Students are paying more than ever for their education, while employers are breaking minimum wage laws by hiring interns for literally years on end.
Obviously this is not the first time I’ve made these points and I really don’t care if people think I’m being repetitive. These points need to be made again and again until more people start to question the status quo. It is not ‘natural’. Things have not always been like this. They can change. It is up to us to make them change.