Cost of Living Crisis: Another Catastrophe, The Same Shoulders

The graphic shows a bright teal background with white left-aligned text quote that reads "Disabled people, carers, lone parents and older people faced huge additional costs and had higher energy needs before eye-watering inflation levels kicked in. They are once again in the firing line as a result of economic crisis.". The quote is attributed to Lynn Williams. In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a dark teal circle.

As part of our blog series on the cost of living, unpaid carer Lynn Williams reflects on the crisis and why government responses bake in further inequality and marginalization. The same shoulders bear the burdens of economic and public policy failures and we cannot allow this to continue, she writes.

It’s hard to know where to start when everything seems so devastatingly awful and overwhelming.

Covid is not over – despite what you might be hearing. And running alongside that ongoing, hellish crisis, there’s another public health and societal disaster in the making.

The “cost of living crisis” is such a misnomer – it’s not a crisis, it’s catastrophic. It’s not a future event – it’s ripping lives apart now.

As I write this, I’m trying not to hyperventilate at the prospect of five figure energy bills; as you read this, you’re probably working out what the heck you cut or stop doing as price rises continue to annihilate your monthly budget. You’re wondering how to keep your disabled child safe and warm; you’re wondering what you can cut back on to ensure that the person you care for has food and the care they need to stay at home.

This is the reality facing our new Prime Minister – foisted on us courtesy of whacky political party machinations.

Ms. Truss has announced a package of support although without any real detail. And I’m no economist but borrowing eye-watering sums of money at a time of increasing inflation, rather than taxing the profits of energy companies, has to be totally bonkers. These global giants are effectively getting away with swag bags full of excessive profit. It’s us who will pay for this package of support for generations to come.

And once again, we have a policy response without nuance or understanding of the daily hell faced by disabled people, by unpaid carers. For families like mine who regularly have bills at around double the energy cap, it’s not clear if/how we will benefit. There appears to be no additional help for people dependent on benefits – building on the inherent unfairness in Rishi Sunak’s pre-summer package of help.

Disabled people, carers, lone parents and older people faced huge additional costs and had higher energy needs before eye-watering inflation levels kicked in. They are once again in the firing line as a result of economic crisis. Yet, this fact has been largely ignored by every government across Britain. And if you were hoping that the Scottish Government was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the recent Programme for Government, you would have been sorely disappointed.

There’s a thread snaking its way through government policy just now - a clear message which can be seen if you choose to look. It’s this:

Some groups in our society matter less. They are sidelined in public policy. They are even expendable.

If you think I’m exaggerating, look at the living with Covid policy; look at the £150 Cost of Living Support payment for people on PIP.

This thread wound its way into the Public Sector Emergency Budget statement delivered in the Scottish Parliament last week. Intentionally or not, the Scottish Government made choices which directly impact on the lives of those who already face structural challenges and inequality. The cuts made to employability programmes and concessionary travel and any further (likely) budget cuts will almost certainly fall on the shoulders of those who can least afford it. Meanwhile, where was the commitment to remove care charging?

We live in dystopian times and yet we seem to have elected politicians who’ve (largely) forgotten what real life is like. The failure of policy responses to match the scale of challenges we collectively face will lead to public health challenges that will be with us for generations to come.

Already, we hear reports from medics of malnourishment, of children who come to school cold and scared. Disabled people are already having to make difficult choices – heat, eat or have the support you need to shower or go to the toilet. Unpaid carers are trading money saving tips online and talking about how very scared they are. When your household is wholly or partially dependent on social security for your income, there isn’t a whole lot more you can do to make it stretch further. Soaring energy prices – even if they are eventually frozen – are simply unaffordable. That means that people will become ill and die. That families will break from the unwieldy pressures they’ve faced during Covid and now as our nation flounders again, and looks for real leadership.

And quite honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of that about – leadership, creativity, openness, co-production. People feel powerless; government inaction ensures that they are.

We’re hearing a lot of soundbites, a lot of blame being thrown about – not a whole lot of action which will help disabled people, unpaid carers and others who are once again in the eye of an economic tsunami. We know for sure that austerity has made us sicker, more likely to die. And here it comes again – on steroids.

We all know current economic approaches are failing far too many people – and quite honestly, people have had enough.

So, I guess my plea is this – how do we collectively fight back? How do we ensure that people like my disabled husband are at the forefront of policy makers’ minds and not an afterthought? How do we break through the doors to where decisions are being made? How do we effectively challenge our politicians to stop doing things to us, and to start working with us?

As a seasoned campaigner, I honestly don’t know. But I have to keep trying. We all do. Otherwise, those who are letting us down get away with it. My plea to charities like Engender and others is that they must also be loud, and keep standing alongside us as we try to get into the corridors of power. Nothing will change otherwise.

We know that there are many different aspects to the cost of living crisis, and we’re keen to highlight all of the different ways that it is impacting women in Scotland. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hosting blogs on a range of issues related to the cost of living and we want to hear from you – if you're interested, please drop us an email at letting us know what aspect of the cost of living and its impact on women you’d like to write about.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.

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