MPs are coining it in
while we’re feeding the
slot machine, says Roger Ratcliffe

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We’ve heard a lot about the cost of living crisis lately. It’s as though there is a slot machine in each of our chests that we must feed with pound coins to keep hearts pumping and lungs inflating, but from 1 April the slots required £2 coins for the same number of beats and breaths.

This is how the cost of living crisis looks to a lot of people. But could the reason why there has been so much recent talk about it be connected to those local elections? Do politicians in small towns and big cities as well as MPs at Westminster begin to notice important issues only when they need your vote?

It is hard not to answer a resounding “yes” to that. Local councillors may have as much control over food and energy costs as you and I but they do have a huge say on how much council tax bills will go up, and I’m struck by the fact that where I live in Bradford Metropolitan District – which includes some of the most deprived wards in England – bills are set to rise by 2.99 per cent in 2022-23, whereas in well-heeled Harrogate the increase is 1.99 per cent.

Nationally the answer is more clear-cut. Politicians at Westminster have massive control over costs. However, in a cabinet of well-fed Conservatives, including one billionaire – chancellor and Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak – do they really have any idea of the hardship and worry caused by that metaphorical slot machine?

Here, it’s hard not to answer a resounding “no”. In an article written by Boris Johnson for the Daily Express he casually dismissed the effects as “feeling the pinch” before rattling out his usual boosterish platitudes about an economy bursting with high-wage, high-skilled jobs as though we are all riding the crest of an economic wave, and ignoring the fact that wages are plummeting in value.

One of his cabinet ministers, George Eustice, seems similarly clueless. “Let them eat value-brand spaghetti” is a fair summary of his interview with Sky News when asked about soaring food prices. Sorry, minister, increasing numbers of people can’t afford to buy even that. In the past year the food banks run by the Trussell Trust have handed out over 2.1 million food parcels. One food bank which this time last year was giving weekly handouts to 25-30 people reports that since energy prices shot up it is now dealing with well over 100 households a week.

When you hear MPs talk about cost-of-living increases, remember that on 1 April their pay rose by £2,212 to over £84,000 a year. This is at a time when the Conservatives are hitting families with an average rise of 1.25 per cent in national insurance and refusing to levy a windfall tax on energy companies like BP, which made a profit of £6.2 billion in the first three months of 2022 thanks to the higher bills we are paying.

As for the cost of living at Westminster, the price of eating and drinking there was subsidised to the tune of £9.1m last year and seems to be going down. In 2016 a rib-eye steak and chips with trimmings cost £12.50, but is now said to be £11.26.

For our poor MPs, it’s grim down south.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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