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Energy crisis has pushed families to the brink – The Guardian

Prof Mike Stein and Peter Riddle on Labour’s policy void as Britain grapples with rising costs and inflation. Plus a stark warning by Dr Thomas Richardson on the heavy price people will pay in terms of mental health problems
The Labour party’s failure to offer a comprehensive set of social and economic policies to address the crisis facing the poorest members of society is beyond cautious. It is inexplicable (With Keir Starmer on holiday, Labour treads water on cost of living, 10 August). As detailed in your coverage, the evidence of the crisis is overwhelming and the impact devastating. It is leading to a downward spiral, from food and fuel poverty to increased destitution and dependency on food, clothes and even bed banks as winter approaches. Charities are now preparing to provide “warm spaces” – in the sixth wealthiest country in the world.
As an immediate response, Labour could commit itself to inflation-proofing all benefits, including universal credit, which is likely to be at least 10% adrift by winter, given the 3% settlement in April this year, and the restoration of the £1,000 cut from October 2021, updated for inflation and including a fuel allowance.
As regards getting to the root of the problem identified by Gordon Brown as “lessons I learned right at the start of the last great economic crisis in 2008” (We must tax profits now, freeze energy prices – and if necessary bring suppliers into the public sector, 10 August), what lessons were learned? You would expect Labour policy to be informed by a commitment to radically reducing inequalities in income and wealth, given the comprehensive research evidence showing their negative impact on health, education and wellbeing. A living wage would be a good start to end the indignity of dependency on charitable relief. It would also symbolise the political difference between Labour’s commitment to “entitlement” and belief of the Conservatives and Liz Truss in “handouts” for the poor.
Prof Mike Stein
University of York
Shakespeare told us that misery makes strange bedfellows, and thus it is left to Martin Lewis, the CBI and the Cornwall Insight consultancy to articulate the devastating impact of inflation, rising prices and energy costs on people’s lives. George Monbiot is right to warn us about the risks posed by the absence of governance (Britain faces crisis upon crisis, and our leaders are absent. This is how a country falls apart, 10 August), but where is the voice of opposition? Opposition means more than criticising those in power. It means offering an alternative route out of the crisis. It is time for a serious politician to step forward and offer this, and if Keir Starmer can’t, he should step aside for someone who can.
Peter Riddle
Wirksworth, Derbyshire
It is important to note that the energy crisis may also become a mental health crisis (UK energy bills forecast to hit £4,266 a year from January, 9 August). Those with mental health problems are more than four times as likely to have electricity debt and more than three times as likely to have gas debt. This crisis is likely to exacerbate poor mental health as research has shown that struggling to pay the bills and cut back on essentials such as food worsens mental health over time.
This is not to mention the potential impact of the wider economic crisis on the mental health of the nation. A recession is forecast, which is likely to lead to an increase in problems such as depression, drug and alcohol problems, and suicidal behaviour. The impact of high inflation on financial hardship is another factor. If broader debts such as credit card debts also go up as people try to cover basic living costs, then expect a rise in mental health problems. In those without debt, 18% have a mental health problem; in those with debt, this rises to 42%. If the government does not tackle this energy crisis, it will have a mental health crisis to deal with as well.
Dr Thomas Richardson
Associate professor of clinical psychology, University of Southampton
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