‘Inaction is not a solution’: Plaid Cymru develops ‘People’s Plan’ to tackle the cost-of-living crisis

“It’s not so much that action is missing, it’s more that the UK government has been missing in action” – Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher talks about the action needed to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

Plaid Cymru

Luke Fletcher MS is Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on the economy, and is Member of Senedd for South Wales West

“I haven’t put my heating on yet this year. One night I had to go to bed fully clothed because I couldn’t warm up. I’m scared of how I’m going to survive when it gets really cold outside.” That quote is from someone from the south Wales valleys, part of which I represent in the Welsh Parliament.

But to be honest, it could have come from any number of people around the UK, because this person is not alone in wondering how they’re going to afford to survive this winter – the cost-of-living crisis is already being felt by too many people around the UK.

According to the Bevan Foundation, the Welsh thinktank working to end poverty and inequality, 6 in 10 people in Wales have already made cuts to the amount of heating, electricity and water they use. Perhaps more shocking is that 4 in 10 people have also had to cut back on food for adults.

It’s clear to me that this isn’t about cutting back on luxury items – for too many families, things like night out and holidays have been off the list for some time.

No, this is about being able to afford the basics – having enough money to put food on the table, to warm the home, to keep yourself and your house clean.

Whether you’ve had these conversations in your household already, or you know someone who’s struggling to make ends meet, in the face of this crisis, inaction is not a solution. We must take action.

And yet, what can the average family do?

Firstly, that action should come from government. We cannot fall into the trap of individualising this crisis.

However, with three prime ministers in as many months, and still no practical steps outlining how they’re going to alleviate the real and very present cost-of-living crisis, that action is lacking.

In fact, the only action we’ve heard our current prime minister describe, is that he’ll take money from “deprived urban areas” and give to wealthy areas instead.

And you’re no doubt familiar with other Tory pearls of wisdom for those struggling to afford food – “learn to cook” said Lee Anderson MP. When the budget doesn’t stretch to food for your children, let alone yourself, not even the finest cook can conjure a nutritious meal out of thin air. However fellow Troy MP Brendan Clarke-Smith agrees that his colleague was “absolutely spot on.”

Meanwhile for those whose income doesn’t cover the bills, Tory MP Jake Berry said to “get another job.”

While I said inaction is not an option, I didn’t mean like that.

With more focus on the leadership elections than actually leading, it’s not so much that action is missing, it’s more that the UK Government has been missing in action.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru knows exactly what action should be taken.

The People’s Plan

From years of being on the side of the people, standing alongside workers fighting for fair pay, and leading the charge to ensure no child at school goes hungry, we’ve developed our radical “People’s Plan.”

It’s a plan that is both socially just and immediately deliverable, and it will directly tackle the cost-of-living crisis and help the people we’re fighting for.

It starts with the twofold action to ensure that the basics are affordable, and that people can afford the basics on their wages.

We’re calling for the UK Government’s mandatory minimum wage for those over 23 – the National Living Wage – to be raised to the level of the Real Living Wage. At the same time, we need to see a similar increase in the National Minimum Wage for those under 23.

We also need to see an immediate uplift of Universal Credit to £25 and a commitment to uprating all benefits in line with inflation from April next year.

The other action the UK government must take is to cancel the October energy price hike and restore last winter’s significantly lower price cap of £1,277. They must also take into account those who aren’t on the grid for natural gas – in Wales that’s 19% of households. Ultimately, what needs to happen is that energy companies are nationalised. With natural monopolies such as energy, there should never be private sector involvement.

While it’s true that the Westminster government holds most of the levers, that doesn’t mean there isn’t action that devolved governments can take. After all, matters such as health, education and local government are fully devolved to Wales. So, too, are some tax raising powers. That’s why we’re calling on the Labour Welsh Government to use the powers it has to defend our people against the cruel Tory austerity measures.

Given that Wales has never voted for a Tory majority, it’s right for them to be able to expect protection from the Labour Welsh Government, especially when Labour in opposition has been so vocal on what should be done. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for a rent freeze in September. These calls were preceded by Scottish Labour in August. And yet, imagine our surprise when Plaid Cymru’s motion calling for a rent freeze in Wales was voted down by Welsh Labour just a few weeks ago, with Welsh Labour seemingly more concerned with the welfare of landlords than tenants.

We also called for a ban on evictions – at least until winter is passed. That, too, was voted down. Two actions that would not cost the Welsh Government any money. Particularly considering the Scottish Government has already taking this action following the Scottish Labour campaign, it seems incomprehensible why Welsh Labour would not do the same?

We showed Welsh Labour the way on universal primary school meals – we’re now calling for them to extend these to secondary school on the simple basis that poverty doesn’t stop in primary school. They said no, on the basis that they’d “need to” make cuts elsewhere.

But when significant tax raising powers are devolved to Wales, this simply isn’t the whole truth. Similarly, they could use their income tax raising powers to provide front line public sector workers with pay-rises.

It’s not just the straight “no”, it’s the lack of interest in even exploring these ideas that is so frustrating.

You would imagine that socialist government would leave no stone unturned in an effort to protect working class families. Yet the Welsh government are more focused on reasons why we can’t do something rather than focused on finding a way to do something.

As my party leader Adam Price said in his conference speech last week “Where has Labour’s radicalism gone? We know we won’t find it with Keir Starmer but we hoped to find it closer to home.”

While the Tories in Westminster caused this crisis, Labour in Wales have the power to help but choose not to. One government sits on its hands, the other washes it hands of all responsibility.

What we need is leadership and direct action to tackle this cost-of-living crisis head on. At the bare minimum we need a willingness to explore options.

Without this, it will be left to the people themselves to take action.

With many workers already striking, and many more unions balloting their members, I believe we’re already seeing it.

However, it’s my sincere belief that it should not be up to the people to have to act to fix the problem that has been forced on them from those in charge.

Image credit: Gareth Edwin – Creative Commons

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