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Workers Increasingly Unable to Buy Food

Potatoes in a treasure chest

A new report suggests that one in eight workers are now struggling to buy food.

The Trades Union Congress survey suggests people are having to skip meals in order to get through the month.

Staggering poll results

The survey took more than 3,200 workers for the TUC and asked questions about their expenditure, as well as how they felt about their current situation. It found that almost half of workers are worried about their basic household expenses, which include food, transport, and energy.

They also found that one in six has left the heating off in cold weather in order to avoid mounting bills, while around one in six also had to pawn their possessions in the last year because they needed a bit of extra money. These results may be familiar to those in food jobs, too.

knife and fork and a wallet

The results were released before the annual TUC conference in Brighton. The conference focuses on worker’s rights and in-work poverty, with Brexit being one of the hot topics of conversation.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “When you come home from a long day at work, you shouldn’t have to worry whether you can afford to eat. Having a job should provide you with a decent life, but it’s not even covering the basics for many. Ten years on from the crash, working families are on a financial cliff edge. Pay packets are worth less and less, but bills keep rising and personal debt is at crisis levels. The government’s inaction must not last. Ministers can raise wages by scrapping public sector pay restrictions, investing to create great jobs across the country and increasing the minimum wage.”

Political implications

The TUC has made strong statements about politicians in the wake of the survey. Criticism is aimed heavily at Theresa May, who has been accused of abandoning her pledge to support families who were “just about managing”. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has been praised for bringing up in-work poverty during the prime minister’s questions.

It’s clear that these survey results have heavy political implications about the current government, with statistics suggesting that shrinking wages are forcing people to take on more debt even when they are in full-time work.

A Treasury spokesman said: “We want to support working families and help them keep more of what they earn. That’s why we are cutting taxes for 30 million people and increasing the ‘national living wage’, worth an extra £1,400 in people’s pockets.”

Meanwhile, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury was not mincing his words. Peter Dowd said, “This is yet further devastating evidence of the consequences of seven years of the Conservatives’ mismanagement of our economy, which has left many people struggling to afford basic necessities. While the Conservatives are running an economy rigged for an elite few and failing to tackle tax avoidance, Labour will stand up for the many and put more money in people’s pockets by introducing a £10-an-hour real living wage, scrapping the public sector pay cap and reducing household bills by bringing key public services and utilities back into public hands.”

It's clear that opinion on the subject is divided, often right down the party lines. While some food workers struggle even to find enough money to eat, others – normally at the higher end of the wage spectrum – may well have benefited from the Tory government’s choices. What seems clear, however, is that both of this country’s main parties still see the living wage and the issue of food poverty merely as an opportunity to bandy slogans about and make re-election promises – which may be totally outdated by the time we next go to vote.