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United Kingdom: All crises and a recession forecast

With inflation out of control, the health system collapsing and a government going through its own deep crisis and failing to address and understand the needs of ordinary citizens, social anger is growing and expressing itself in massive strikes in essential sectors.


 Sergio Ferrari


Britain is paying the price of an isolationist Brexit, of the pandemic with profound consequences and now of a war on the continent itself. Despite the triumphalist war rhetoric of London, the European Union and NATO, the most neglected European social sectors – i.e. those who bear the fundamental burden of the energy, food and social crises – are beginning to take to the streets in defence of their survival.

What is happening in the UK has led some social actors to reflect on what could be the outbreak of a real humanitarian crisis in just a few months’ time.

The National Health Service (NHS), the leading body in the health sector, has in recent days demanded that the government take immediate action to control increases in energy costs. If it fails to take urgent action, it says, there is a risk of “a public health emergency”.

A humanitarian crisis

On the third Friday in August the NHS, which brings together, supports and speaks for the whole health system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, sounded the alarm.

Figures show that, if no additional social measures are taken, “fuel poverty rates in the UK will reach 54% from October and at least 66% from January”. This will affect in particular more than 80 per cent of large families, lone parents and retired couples.

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the state of fuel poverty is officially reached when more than 10% of the average household income is spent on energy bills.

According to official estimates, by January next year the price of energy will reach £4,266 per household.

The current average (annual) wage in Britain is £31,285. Just a year ago, in March 2021, the top price for energy was £1,200 a year. It is unusual for the NHS to raise the tone as harshly as it is doing. And no one can undermine the value of these words given its close contact with daily reality and the crisis. The NHS employs 1,500,000 staff who care for more than a million patients a day. A million patients a day!

“We promote collaboration and partnership working as the key to improving the health of the population, delivering high quality care and reducing health inequalities”, say the spokespersons of this main governmental partner.

According to the NHS, living in fuel poverty will result in “a dramatic increase in respiratory conditions, malnutrition and even hospital admissions for children”.

Vulnerable older people living in winter conditions are also at particular risk of heart attacks, strokes and falls. Tensions, depression and psycho-mental illnesses will increase along with this crisis.

In that context, the government’s promised £400 cost-of-living rebate, to be paid in instalments, will not offset the dramatic hit to energy prices. “This will push more than two-thirds of UK households into fuel poverty, exacerbating health inequalities that have already widened during the pandemic,” the body says. Economic analysts are already beginning to forecast economic recession in the medium term.

Crisis of misgovernance

The political opposition, trade union and civil society actors have been pointing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s responsibility for the increasingly complex situation.

August was a month of multiple strikes and social mobilisations in different sectors, each with their own demands, but with the common denominator of demanding wage adjustments to cope with the uncontrolled increase in the prices of basic products and services. There is talk, as the daily France Inter said, of “Strikes and Thatcherism back in Britain”. It is “the first time in 30 or even 40 years that there have been strikes in some sectors, such as railways, the underground and ports”.

London was paralysed for two days at the end of August and this situation is expected to happen again. Postal workers and journalists’ trade unions are anticipating strike action.

While British Airways reached a last minute wage deal that avoids the worst  on the return of  British holidaymakers, teachers and health workers are threatening to launch a massive strike.

Of the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, although her Downing Street speech promised prosperity and opportunity, improvements on the ground, investment and jobs, it is said that like her former challenger, Rishi Sunak, she appears to be oblivious to a country threatened with collapse.

Runaway inflation

One of the causes and an example of the current complex crisis is the inflationary boom. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s consumer price index (CPI) rose to 10.1 per cent in July – up from 9.4 per cent the previous month – and was at its highest level in more than 40 years in August, when it reached 10.4 per cent in February 1982. According to the France 24 television channel, one of the items that pushed inflation into double digits was food. An increase of 2.3 per cent was recorded from June to July, the highest monthly increase in 21 years.

“Food prices rose sharply, particularly for bakery products, dairy products, meat and vegetables,” said Grant Fitzner, chief economist at the ONS, as quoted by the French media.

However, for some experts, the worst is yet to come. The Bank of England forecasts a rise in gas prices in October, which, coupled with the current crisis, could push the UK into a prolonged recession.

Various sources predict that inflation could then reach 13%. With energy prices set to remain high, the central bank acknowledges that the country is facing its biggest fall in living standards since records began in the 1960s.

According to France24, real wages today are at the lowest level on record, so if the figures show anything, it is that wages are not driving inflation (…).

On the other hand, paradoxically, since the pandemic, the top 350 companies listed on the FTSE  (the London Stock Exchange’s benchmark stock market index) have seen their profits rise by 43%. The analysis concludes: the UK is suffering a crisis of speculation – when will something be done about it?” Although still less shocking than the British rate, inflation in the euro area also continues to soar to record highs. It reached 8.9% in July, up from 8.6% in June, 8.1% in May and 7.% in April.

Europeans continue to see energy and food prices soar, due in large part to the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the real problems of gas and fuel supplies from Russia.

(Translated by Rene Phelvin – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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