As Britons careen into the sharpest nosedive in living standards since the aftermath of the Second World War, a country on the brink begs help not from the historic halls of Downing Street, but from a journalist turned personal finance guru and a Twitter famous anti-poverty campaigner. How did we end up here?
In the space of a decade, Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis has gone from the man who shouts about two-for-one deals online, to an accidental national savior who tells desperate people how to avoid starvation and death by exposure. His ally de him in this Dickensian nightmare is Jack Monroe, a cookbook author who once specialized in budget-friendly recipes but now spends her days answering panicked calls from petrified, penniless citizens.
Britain’s collapse into state-sanctioned poverty has backed these unlikely heroes into unenviable corners, forcing both to admit that no level of frugality can do anything to counter the unprecedented surge in the cost of living.
“I need to say, as the Money Saving Expert who’s been known for this, I am out of tools to help people now. It’s not something money management can fix,” Lewis grimly proclaimed on BBC’s Sunday Morning.
Monroe said she has “never known the scale of sheer desperation and terror” now flooding her inbox each day, before tweeting out what is arguably the most damning indictment of this Conservative administration’s Thatcherite approach: a “no fuel” recipe for cooking fish in tinned pineapple which helps you to kill deadly bacteria without turning on the gas.
As soaring bills and sky-high rents cripple the nation, both Lewis and Monroe have warned that the crisis we now face is worse than the global financial crash and the pandemic put together. They’re right.
In the feverish years after Lehman Brothers collapsed and took the world’s economy with it, just over 25,000 Britons relied on food banks for three days worth of emergency food each week. By the end of 2021, that figure had ballooned to an almost unbelievable 2.5 million. Like our unlikely heroes, I shudder to think what that number will climb to after the real life impact of lifting the energy price cap hits home in the coming months.
Dystopian decisions made by suited men in the gilded cage of Westminster now threaten to destitute the widest cross-section of British society in history. From benefits recipients and blue collar workers, to students and the middle class, no one will be immune to the price hikes set to bring this country to breaking point.
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The fact that such Victorian austerity is being doled out by the likes of Rishi Sunak, a former banker believed to be the wealthiest man in the Commons with an estimated net worth of £200m, beggars belief.
Days before Sunak unveiled his Kafkaesque spring statement last month, Iceland supermarket boss Malcolm Walker made the chilling pronouncement that many of the UK’s food bank users are now declining potatoes and root vegetables because they cannot afford the fuel to cook them with. I ask you to read that again.
Heating your home should not be a luxury. Putting three, nourishing meals on the table for your family each day should not be a luxury. Being able to afford the cost of transport to your workplace without it wiping out a chunk of your pay packet should not be a luxury.
If the revelation that millions of citizens of the world’s fifth largest economy are not only reliant on hand outs, but are unable to accept said donations due to the spiraling cost of boiling the kettle, was not enough to spur the chancellor to reconsider some of his most egregious policies, then I defer to the haunting words of Mr Lewis: I’m out of ideas.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.