I worry that poverty will take a back seat once the "cost-of-living" crisis ends. We need to remember that what has been labelled as a "cost-of-living" crisis, I prefer the phrase a survival economy, has only become one when it started to affect the previously comfortable, middle-class and wealthy. For those who have always been struggling, it has always been a cost-of-living crisis and will continue to be one despite what the media tells us. Families will still be struggling to heat their homes. Workers will still struggle to put food on the table as the prices of everyday foods continue to rise whilst their wages don't keep up. Working-class communities up and down the country will continue to struggle as there is a lack of investment in their local areas where they are the decision-makers. This cost-of-living crisis is nothing new. Go into any council estate, state school, community centre (if it is still around), pub or high street, and you will see and hear that people have been struggling for time.
But this begs the question, when will this stop? Can this ever be over? What does it mean to be over?
Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the "cost-of-living" crisis will stop being one when the lives of the middle class and the folks in the media return to "normal". Back to the status quo. Back to what got us into this deep mess in the first place. I'm worried that once these sections of society are sorted, talking about poverty will once again blow over. The talking heads, media and academics will stop putting pressure on, whilst many of us continue to struggle.
So there is a clear distinction as to what an end to the crisis will mean. The story will be told that everything is a-okay, "I'm alright, Jack", and then the gritty reality underneath.
This is mainly because those who are least affected by what is going on are in positions where they get to decide when it is over. They are the journalists, the politicians, the economists, the policywonks, the talking heads and so on. They see talking about inequality and poverty as their jobs, maybe even a bit of a hobby. Seeing the so called cost of living crisis as being able to be fixed through pulling this and that policy lever and arbitrary statistical targets.
Yet, GDP, productivity and any other measure coming out of economics, as they are today, will tell us little to nothing about how things are – what life is like for those at the bottom and the most marginalised. Where are the voices of those most struggling in all this? Surely, they should be the ones who get to decide if the crisis is over or not. The professionals should not, and will not, choose when the struggle is over. And neither should those of the poverty tourism industry. The multi-millionaire money saving experts nor the poverty campaigners offering meals to cook with barely a calorie in it to share between a family. It should be the voices of those most struggling who should be heard the most.
For me, how we keep poverty on the agenda comes down to a straightforward idea. Organise, educate and agitate.
Speak to your friends, families and community. Discuss and debate the economy and how you want your future to look. Just like they did in the US around the Vietnam War, where Americans realised that others also didn't agree with what was happening, despite what the media told them, we can do the same today on the current state of the economy and our lives. Educate each other on what we are going through, passing on skills and knowledge and sharing our little resources. And from this, do not let the media go quiet and act like it is no longer an issue. I'll admit, this is easier said than done. But we cannot allow them to let this blow over.
All this opens up a deeper discussion of what and who our economy should be for. Do we continue with the way things are, or do we want an economy that is in the interests of people and planet? We cannot afford to keep repeating the same actions hoping for a different outcome. Today, more than ever, we need to question how the economy/society functions and what sort of new future we want.
Call the period we are going through what you want. A cost of living crisis, a downturn or whatever takes your fancy. But the truth is that what we are currently going through is nothing new for the working class, and it shouldn't be those who are least affected who get to decide when it ends, but it should be us. Don't let them get away with it.