How do we deal with the Cost of Living Crisis? Wrong answers only please.

There’s a trend on social media where someone asks a question and then invites people to give only wrong answers. The aim is to get the silliest response possible. It looked this week as though Conservative Government Minister Rachel Maclean thought she had been invited to participate in such a challenge.

Maclean has managed to get herself quoted throughout the media as suggesting that people who are struggling with food and fuel bills need to go out and work more hours or change jobs for something better paid. If you want to make the Tories look out of touch and uncaring, then that’s exactly how to go about it.

Of course, as is often the case, this wasn’t quite what she said.  If you watch the interview back, rather than arguing that this is what people should and could do, she was rather saying that many people might want to try those things but find that they are unable to. She was suggesting that the Government could help by making things easier.

From that perspective, perhaps the nuanced position isn’t quite so bad as first thought.  Certainly, there will be people who have been struggling to make ends meet and part of the reason is that they haven’t been able to build up the working hours they would like to. Of course, it is worth remembering that causes of that will include being restricted by zero hour contracts and the reality that people can only do work that is available to do, so they are dependent upon the economic situation.  At the same time, many people are struggling to pay the bills whilst working long hours in multiple jobs.

What then about the second option of finding a better paid job? Well, if people are able to get a promotion or a pay rise then that’s brilliant for them. However, the job they get promoted out of still presumably needs doing.  I find it concerning that the minister sees work purely in terms of what gets the pay packet and thus in effect devalues a lot of work people do.  Encouraging people to go and find another job doesn’t resolve the issue of people not being paid both what their work is worth and what they actually need to live on

Furthermore, the focus on personal income here misses a crucial point, it’s a point which we also miss if we focus on controlling borrowing through interest rates. Measures to do with wages and interest rates can help if the primary cause of inflation is to do with money supply. However, as the Bank of England and others have pointed out, we are dealing with something different. The current pressure on prices for fuel and commodities is coming from external causes that affect the global economy. Primarily this is about the break down of supply chains and demand for crucial basics including food, fuel and raw materials outstripping supply because of this.

Our hope remains that such problems are temporary due to COVID and the war in Ukraine but some of these could end up being longer term problems.  If the problem is going to be longer term, then we need to think about how to resolve those challenges.

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