The cost of living crisis is affecting us all. It follows us around the supermarket, at the petrol pump, every time we switch on a light.
As household bills skyrocket and wages are stretched to cover the basics, families are facing the biggest fall in living standards in generations.
The headlines are rightly dominated by rising costs and the plight of those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Last week my fellow Big Issue North columnist Roger Ratcliffe described it as an anatomical slot machine that must be fed with coins to afford us all the right to breathe. Some of us are breathing easier than others. For those who were just about affording to get by before, recent hikes in inflation have left them on the brink of suffocation.
Last month the BBC aired Panorama: Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis (still available on the iPlayer). The documentary follows three working families as they try to cope with spiralling costs amid what is predicted to be the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s.
It is a harrowing watch. One mother describes her anxiety at the sight of the postman, fearing the delivery of another bill she cannot afford to pay. Children from two other families probe their mothers over why they are not eating dinner too, as they sit at the table with an empty space in front of them. They’ll eat later, their mothers reassure them. But the truth is they will go without.
This is Britain in 2022: children taking on the mental load of whether their parents are eating enough.
Last week’s Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for the government to announce a support package to provide relief for those who will be forced to choose between heating and eating this year. There are a range of measures it could have put in place. An immediate rise to Universal Credit and benefit payments in line with soaring costs, and a windfall tax on the energy and oil companies that have recently recorded mammoth profits would have been a good place to start.
But as the IPPR think tank put it, the government’s plan is merely ‘cosmetic surgery for an economy facing a heart attack’. In fact, the speech, delivered by Prince Charles, while sitting on a golden throne, only mentioned the cost of living once.
So what now? While the government sticks its fingers in its ears and sings ‘la, la, la’, half a million children will be plunged into absolute poverty next year, according to analysis by the Resolution Foundation. It predicts that the typical working-age household will see their real income fall four per cent next year and a loss of £1,100, with the poorest households facing a six per cent fall.
As the country tightens its belt, the knock-on effect will be felt far and wide. Less disposable income means less money for life’s so-called luxuries: the odd meal out, the trip to the cinema, the cut and blow at the hairdressers. The loss of those livelihoods is inevitable.
In the midst of another crisis, once again the government is choosing to bury its head in the sand.