Social catastrophe

In a previous letter I wrote about the impact of the huge energy price increases on domestic customers. Many will simply not be able to afford to pay and will not turn the heating on. Some already do that. At the same time the impact on small businesses is likely to be catastrophic for jobs. According to the government’s NOMIS website 90% of businesses in Swindon are those with less than 10 employees. A further 7.5% have less than fifty. These are not ‘entrepreneurs’ but people who earn a living and employ a few people. Many of them were already in a fragile state as a result of the pandemic. They don’t make a lot of money to protect them from shocks.

Without a freeze of energy prices many of them will not be able to keep going. There will be a big spike in unemployment. Thousands of people will be thrown out of work and forced to depend on the miserly income which Universal Credit provides. Their state sponsored poverty will drag the economy down.

NOMIS also shows that in two years from March 2020 to March 2022 there was an increase of 7,500 people of working age in Swindon who are economically inactive, not included in the unemployment figures. Only 2,000 of these have retired early. There was also a fall of 1,200 people registered as self-employed.

Without stopping the price increases we are facing a social catastrophe. The NHS Confederation’s warning of a humanitarian crisis is no exaggeration. The very term we usually identify with a poor foreign country far away, will apply to us.

Consider the plight of the disabled. If you have an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter but you can’t afford to charge it you will be house bound.

If millions of people do not put their heating on in the winter, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of homes which develop damp and mould. Imagine the knock-on costs to the NHS as a result of impact on their health. More vulnerable people will die if they cannot heat their homes in winter.

The quickest way to prevent this catastrophe is for the state to take over control of energy, stop the companies increasing prices, and bar them from handing out dividends to share holders. This is a monstrous example of market failure which has been exacerbated by vulture speculators who make fortunes from price volatility, and could not give a damn about the social consequences.

Ultimately we need to become self-sufficient in energy so that we are not subject to this crazy global market. Like all natural monopolies they should produce for social need and surpluses used to improve the infrastructure, not siphoned for the benefit of shareholders whilst they are protected them from taxation in some tax haven. There are people’s lives at stake here. We should not be subsidising private monopolies that cannot provide a commodity at a price which is affordable for the majority of the population and threatens to impoverish them on a scale that has not been seen since the 1930s.

As more and more people are pushed to the edge who will donate to the foodbanks that thousands rely on? What will happen to those people if the foodbanks have insufficient donations? What justification would there be in calling this a civilised country?

Martin Wicks

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