The speech made by Kate Osborne, the Labour MP for Jarrow, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.
The cost of living crisis presents the biggest threat in a generation to the living standards of the working class in this country. The removal of the energy price cap has meant that bills have risen by up to 54% for millions of households in the UK. This has meant the highest real-terms energy price increase in living memory, with the worst fall in living standards since the 1950s.
Shockingly, the cost of living crisis is having a disproportionate effect on women. According to work done by the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), more than 7.5 million women are currently living in relative poverty. That translates to almost a quarter of all women across the UK. The TUC has said that the Chancellor’s response to the cost of living crisis has been “woefully inadequate”. It says that he needs to call
“an emergency budget to get pay rising, help families with soaring bills, and keep the economy moving”—
and it is absolutely right.
This cost of living crisis is underpinned by financial injustice and unfairness. It is a crisis where Tory smoke and mirrors cannot hide the truth, and where people have had to choose between eating and heating their homes while paying crippling bills. Against the backdrop of these cruel choices, oil and gas companies have managed to turn over record profits in the first quarter of 2022, with Shell recording a record quarterly profit of $9.1 billion, up from $6.3 billion in the final three months of 2021, while BP has seen its profits for the first quarter more than double on the previous year to $6.2 billion. This cannot be right.
I was proud to be elected on a manifesto that committed to bringing energy companies into public ownership, which would have regulated prices and ultimately put accountability to the people over profit. This Government should have looked towards countries such as France, Spain and Germany and used the Queen’s Speech as an opportunity to implement a low-percentage price cap on energy prices, and they should have committed to implementing a windfall tax. Calls for a windfall tax are supported not only by those on the Opposition side of the House, but elsewhere, including by the Tesco chairman, John Allan.
If the best this Chancellor can provide is a tacit threat to impose a windfall tax on energy companies, rather than a legislative commitment, that is simply not good enough. The increase in energy prices and the responsibility for the terrifying cost of living crisis stop at the Government’s door, and they have failed to use this Queen’s Speech as an opportunity to rebalance the financial burden in this country. More people will suffer through their lack of action.
As we emerge from this pandemic, people in this country are enduring one of the worst cost of living crises seen in post-war Britain. The simple fact is that it does not have to be like this, and the Government have a duty to alleviate this crisis by making corporations, and those who can, contribute more. This Queen’s Speech was an opportunity to redress the balance, but it was also incumbent on the Government to take action, and they have not. This Queen’s Speech, put forward by this Government, has no substance and shows no willingness to redress the balance of power in this country. Unless they do more, I fear for the people I represent in the Jarrow constituency and for those in the rest of the UK.