I listened to the Autumn Statement and felt a bit numb halfway through. I was happy to find out that UC will be uprated in line with the September 2023 interest rate of 6.7% (but wasn’t this the very least we could expect?). I heard the Chancellor say that the triple lock on pensions would remain and that too, felt like news I should celebrate, but…. During the fifty odd minutes it took to read the statement, I ran the gamut of emotions from relief, to rage and everything in between, by the end all I had left was a question: is that it?
The truth is, for those of us, and there are millions, who are struggling just to make ends meet, there was very little to lift our flagging mental health and self-worth. Alcohol duty? Well I don’t drink that much and the people I know who are on low incomes largely can’t afford to go to the pub. A rise in local housing allowance, another bit of good news? Or, is it? What difference will this really make to people struggling to cover historically sky-high housing costs? In fact, as I listened right up to the end of the statement, the news that from 2025 it will become even more difficult for people with mobility issues and mental health conditions to claim "limited capability for work" made me hit the ceiling, and since that
time, I have returned to the ground and cried.
And while I cry, the political circus continues. Watching the statement, I imagined the sounds of the circus - ‘da da da da da da da da da da’ - playing as the chancellor pulled a string of handkerchiefs from his top pocket. The cut to NI was a case of giving with one hand, and taking with the other. And surely it also undermines further our social security system? The nurses he mentioned might just be able to afford to park at work for a month with that one! And I worry for the carers of others, who save the public purse billions annually whilst working a paying job too, just to cope. How will this impact their working hours and the thresholds? Watching the statement, I sat wondering if anyone else feels, as I do, that a lot of wealthy people will get wealthier and that I’ve just had my last tenner stolen right in front of my eyes.
How is it possible for me to take comfort in the uprating of the meagre amount I receive in Universal Credit (don’t get me wrong I am grateful), when the language used and punitive measures inflicted upon the people we should protect in our society, felt so abusive and desolate? I keep thinking about the housing benefit cap, and the plight of those who just
don’t fit the criteria for support, and it makes me so unutterably sad. The statement felt very much like I expected it to and even a little bit worse. Nothing in there genuinely offers credible hope to people either already in dire need, or hurtling inexorably towards it. Our mortgages will remain ridiculously high, our bills will remain ridiculously high and we will just have to live with it, and that is the best outcome at this point.
In amongst all of this, we cannot forget that our children are witnesses to the tremendous weight that a life in poverty brings. They are touched daily by the difficulties we as parents and carers are facing. That is not exclusive to those of us on social security benefits, it is the reality of millions of people terrified that they simply cannot afford to live. When I say live, I
don’t mean anything above the actual business of paying our bills and getting through with the constant threat that we might lose our homes. The homes we cannot afford to heat, the homes we cannot afford to fix. Our children are witnesses to the wholesale greed of others whilst people starve themselves to make their budget stretch that bit further. In my son’s words: Why do the government hate people like us so much?
As I listened to the statement, I received an email from my energy supplier (the one who has announced so many record profits I have lost count) telling me that in January, my bills will increase because Ofgem told them they can charge us more. The raucous sounds of the circus are back, and as I reflect on the Chancellor's statement I remember how some people
have been doing very well indeed during this crisis - have even managed to turn it to their advantage and profit from it. Disgusted, I decide that it’s time to make a cup of cut price tea and work out how I am going to tell my son that Christmas might look a bit worse than I had anticipated this year as I prepare to contribute to someone else’s luxury lifestyle in bill payments, fuel, and food costs.
The Autumn Statement was the latest act in a second-rate circus, and I for one want my money back.