Protesters demonstrated in dozens of towns and cities across the UK on Saturday to highlight how the spiralling cost of living crisis is affecting the public.
The demonstrations, co-organised by anti-austerity organisation People’s Assembly and supported by trade unions, were held in at least 25 towns and cities, from London to Glasgow to Bangor.
The protests come as UK inflation jumped to 5.4% in December, the highest rate in almost 30 years. The Bank of England warned CPI will hit 6% by April, with governor Andrew Bailey coming under fire for suggesting workers should not ask for big pay rises to control it.
“Working people could not be working harder and yet life is getting so much more difficult,” said Laura Pidcock, national secretary of the People’s Assembly and a former Labour MP. She said there was “real anger” over the cost of living crisis and the government’s failure to act.
“Older people will be cold in their homes, people will be struggling to feed their children, when none of this is a crisis of their making,” Pidcock said.
The events follow fears rising living costs will be experienced by the UK’s poorest the hardest. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has come under pressure to rethink April’s national insurance (NI) rise, after a thinktank warned UK households classed “destitute” could climb by almost a third – to more than 1 million – this spring.
Placards in Parliament Square in London read “tax the rich” and objected to surging energy prices. In Newcastle, one sign held near a baby said: “I can do a better job than Boris.”
In autumn, the government withdrew a £1,040-a-year uplift to universal credit (UC) – opposed by several leading Conservatives including Iain Duncan Smith, UC’s architect – despite warnings it could plunge 800,000 people into poverty.
The protests were sparked because “people are fed up of rich men telling them that they have to pay for boardroom greed and colossal market failure,” said Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite.
“This crisis was not caused by working people and we are not going to take wage cuts to pay for it,” Graham added.
Andy Simmons, a 24-year-old from Leeds who works in merchandising in London, attended the Parliament Square demo to protest rising living costs after his rent was recently hiked.
“When I moved in I was paying £780 rent a month,” he said, for a room in a flat with three housemates. “Now I’m paying £845 – it could have even been worse, the landlord wanted to raise it to £950.”
“Quality of life is progressively getting worse under a Tory government,” Simmons said. “But they can obviously afford to spend millions giving Big Ben a makeover.”
Sunak insisted it was “simply not right” that the “poorest will bear the burden” of NI rises in an interview with Sky News.
But opposition MPs at Saturday’s events blamed the Conservatives. “The cost of living crisis is a Tory political choice: they hand bankers a £1bn-a-year tax cut while scrapping the £20-a-week universal credit uplift,” Labour MP Zarah Sultana, who attended the Coventry demonstration, said on Twitter.
“Low-paid workers cannot and will not pay for the government’s problems,” said Fran Heathcote, president of the Public and Commercial Services union. “The hike in heating bills, fuel, transport costs and national insurance contributions, at the same time as pay is held down and pensions are being attacked, leaves most workers with a real cost of living crisis.”