By Catherine Finnegan
With inflation reaching a near 40-year high of 6.7% in March 2022, the cost-of-living crisis is now firmly a reality for all sections of society, but like all crises, working-class and poor people are being hit hardest. Food prices have been climbing steadily over the last 12 months, with recent CSO research showing an increase of 5.5% in 2021; the largest jump in 20 years. While some people may be able to bear the burden of an estimated €780 increase on their groceries per year, for families and low-income folks already struggling they must now make difficult choices between basic necessities like heating and transport so that they can afford a weekly food shop.
Food prices soar out of control
Basics like butter and oils have jumped by 4.4%, with pasta and bread increasing by 6.4% and 5.3% respectively. The percentages are recorded over the last year but the last month has seen the prices climb even faster. Even budget supermarket chains like Aldi are increasing prices, despite making record profits of €71.2million last year along with companies like Tesco and Musgraves. Price increases are set to continue as supply chain issues remain unresolved, while supermarkets and food retailers claim they are working hard to avoid price increases, but what they are really working hard to avoid is any impact on their profits.
Price controls now
Working people will continue to pay ever-increasing costs to line the pockets of such companies. This cannot continue, especially when cold weather starts to return and consumers are battling food price increases along with skyrocketing energy prices to heat their homes. Section 61 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 allows the government to freeze prices for food, energy and fuel, and this needs to happen without delay. The impact of inflation cannot be counterbalanced simply with mediocre measures like subsidies to energy companies; real action must be demanded.
Stagnant wages cannot continue
An infuriating paradox is that while inflation skyrockets wages remain stagnant – this is a wage cut in different terms because our pay buys us less and less. The obvious remedy for this is both price controls and for workers to be paid more. Trade unions and all workers must organise to fight for a €15 minimum wage and double digit wages increases across the board, with further increases in line with inflation. Workers should not suffer from the mismanagement of the economy (which is in reality just management in favour of business interests), and should get better pay before inflation suffocates more households.