For most this has been a long miserable two years. But not everyone has had a bad pandemic.
While too many people are making themselves sick with worry at how to pay rising bills, some have never had it so good. There are more billionaires than ever. Share prices have never been higher.
This is broken Britain. The most unequal country in northern Europe. And it’s getting worse. Rising fuel and food prices are already increasing misery. People on low and fixed incomes are being punished the most.
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You would think that any government would want to tackle poverty and inequality. Not this one. The Tories are taking action: they’re making things worse.
The government’s attitude to gas and electricity price rises is perverse. Higher prices mean a bigger tax take for the government every time energy is produced and every time it is sold. Higher bills for us will mean more money for the government. You’d think they’d at least give the extra back to consumers.
We’ve been demanding three things. Cut VAT on bills. Make an emergency payment to low-income households to help pay the increases that have already taken place. And keep the price cap as it is by giving money to suppliers to bridge the gap between the wholesale and retail price of energy.
So far, nothing.
The government also influences our income by the taxes it levies. Deciding who pays tax and how much is always a political choice. This Tory government has chosen to increase the taxes paid by everyone to avoid higher charges for the wealthiest. The increases will affect low and middle-income households much more severely. That’s immoral and I’m supporting cross-party campaigns to look at a wealth tax as an alternative.
It’s hard to know how much of this dreadful and insipid response to the cost-of-living crisis is intended. It’s certainly made worse by the paralysis that has gripped Westminster as the Tories rally round to save Johnson’s skin after Partygate.
In those former Labour strongholds of northern England, the electorate are now realising the UK government think they’re fools. The mood is turning against the Tories and I can’t see them getting it back.
In Scotland, some tell us to concentrate on these economic problems, rather than whether Scotland should become an independent country. But they are the same thing. I want Scotland to become an independent country so we can have different politics and a different economy.
To date the Scottish government has done what it can. They have ameliorated the bedroom tax, increased public sector wages, and created child support payments that mitigate Universal Credit cuts.
But the Scottish economy is treated by the UK as a region, not a nation. Scottish ministers have little room to manoeuvre within a financial straitjacket imposed by Whitehall. We need control over the regulation of labour and capital, and the ability to borrow, invest and tax fairly. All these things require political independence.
That’s why Nicola Sturgeon is right to say that she will move forward with the central policy she was elected on nine months ago: giving people the right to choose a different way of running Scotland.
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East