Saturday, 28 February 2015

REVIEW: The Cost of Living Crisis

Simon Hewitt reviews The Cost of Living Crisis: Time to End Economic Injustice by
Michael Calderbank, published by Radical Read £9.95 

Like any minimally sentient Labour Party member I occasionally have my doubts about Ed Miliband. His timid flirtations with social democracy may be the political equivalent of a nervous teenager shuffling on the PE bench towards that girl they've always fancied, wholly inadequate to achieve the desired end. Yet there's a case to be made that even a furtive shuffle is better than running away.

Under Miliband's leadership we've seen a Labour leader, for the first time in a good while, talking about the lives of working class people in a manner that's half-way relevant. In increasing numbers we can't afford our housing, our gas bills, and the food on our tables. Ed, or at least one of his policy advisors, has realised this. Thus all this talk of “The Cost of Living Crisis”.

Michael Calderbank's timely contribution joins this discussion. Real wages are flatlining at best, the welfare state is under sustained attack, and employment is increasingly insecure. The reality of millions living at, or below, the breadline is meticulously documented in this well-researched and readable book. I will keep it near to hand as a very useful source of facts about life in Cameron's Britain. We learn that, disgracefully, 60 people a day die in the UK because they are unable to heat their homes properly. We are told that benefits make up more than half the entire income of 9.6 million families, a statistic that supplies context for the misery caused by sanctions, described by Calderbank with proper indignation.

But diagnosing the disease is one thing, proposing a cure is another entirely. It's here that Calderbank thinks the Labour front bench fall short. Austerity has tied their hands needlessly. While some policy initiatives are welcome – the energy price cap and Mansion Tax get a mention – what Miliband, Balls and friends have on offer is wholly inadequate. Calderbank has alternatives to suggest, presented helpfully as bullet points at the end of each chapter, and these give us some idea what a left programme for Labour could look like.

The Cost of Living Crisis points to deeper issues with the society that has produced it. One word that
captures much of what is at issue is “class”. Revealingly, Calderbank quotes Warren Buffet in his final chapter: “There's class warfare alright, but it's my class that's making war and we're winning”. Uniting the labour movement around the kind of alternatives courted in this book would be a modest, but welcome, step towards rallying the forces on the other side.

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