Rebecca Long-Bailey – 2022 Speech on the Cost of Living Crisis

The speech made by Rebecca Long Bailey, the Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

It is often said that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable, but sadly we saw no such measures of greatness in the Gracious Speech. As the Child Poverty Action Group states, it was

“a legislative agenda that risks leaving increased levels of child poverty—currently at almost 4 million and expected to rise further—as its only real legacy.”

What were the Government’s priorities, if not to help those in need? We saw ideological flights of fancy, such as forcing through the privatisation of Channel 4, which does not cost the taxpayer a penny and does not need to be privatised, and the British Bill of Rights, which is understood to be a back-door vehicle to undermine the Human Rights Act.

On workers’ rights, there was no employment rights Bill, despite years of promises from the Government. In its place was the Brexit freedoms Bill, which many fear will cut safety regulations, environmental protections and workers’ rights. People are right to be worried, because despite the Government’s warm fluffy protestations to the contrary, some of the Secretaries of State responsible for drafting the Bill wrote a book arguing that Britain needs to adopt a far-reaching form of free market economics with fewer employment rights.

In the meantime, our communities are suffering through the cost of living crisis and the Government seem blinkered to their despair. They hiked national insurance contributions for working people; cut universal credit and pensions by offering only a 3.1% increase when inflation is predicted to reach 10%; and sat back as oil and gas companies sit on record profits while people struggle to pay their bills.

It is clear to everyone—even the CBI and Sir John Major —that the Government must issue an emergency Budget. That means increasing universal credit, legacy benefits and state pensions in line with actual inflation; scrapping the punitive aspects of the universal credit system, such as the five-week wait, the two-child limit, the benefits cap, and no recourse to public funds; increasing the minimum wage to a real living wage, with a pathway, including business support, towards £15 an hour; and a real-terms public sector pay increase.

We also need an extension of the warm home discount, a street-by-street national home insulation programme and a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies. As Greenpeace suggested, the Government could increase the tax level on oil and gas producer profits to 70% as an absolute minimum, which would simply be in line with the global average and would generate an additional £13.4 billion for the Exchequer that could be used to bring down bills and invest in energy efficiency.

Fundamentally, however, for the longer term, we must recognise that although horrific global events are a significant factor in the cost of living crisis, it is the structural issues in our economy and energy system that have left us most vulnerable to global price fluctuations. Closing our main energy storage facility in 2017 without replacing it was a monumental error, but worse still are the long-term structural failures that the privatisation of our energy market has caused. It is undeniable that public ownership is central to addressing the costs and energy security crisis that we face.

So at the very least our communities deserve an emergency Budget before millions suffer possibly the worst economic crisis that they will ever see in their lifetime. At best, we need to reform our economy and energy system so that they protect people from the crisis that we are seeing today.