Monday 21 February 2022

"Cost of living crisis affects everyone but those who are hard up suffer most." Protest speech by Simon Watson

Simon Watson
Here is Simon Watson's inspiring speech for the Cost of Living Crisis protest on 12 Feb 2022

"Hi, I’m Simon Watson, Regional Organiser for UNISON 


It’s great to see you’ve turned out at short notice in the changeable Aberdeen weather to make a statement about this huge issue for union members, and working people generally.  This is the only the start of what needs to be done. 


We’ve been through two years of a pandemic which has demonstrated that the real critical workers in our society are the cleaners, the carers, the health, schools, and other public service workers. 


They have put themselves, their health and the health of their families on the line to keep us all going.  But now fuel bills are rocketing £700 a year, National Insurance going up by 10%, Inflation hitting 7% - and real inflation for those on lower incomes is much more than that. 


Even the punitive social security system benefits are being cut in real terms, and that’s without the £20 being removed from Universal credit.  Let’s not forget that most households claiming benefits have people who are working. 


The distant memory of Boris Johnson asking people to clap for our carers now seems like very cold comfort. 


This crisis is affecting almost everyone in our society.  COVID has rightly caused great concern about peoples mental health, but the cost of living crisis is not only hurting peoples finances, but the stress is making mental health worse as well. 


Of course, it its those who are hard up that suffer the most.  The lives of people who poor, disabled or marginalised are often either demonised or ignored. 


But how is it that in the sixth richest country in the world, a country where there are now 174 billionaires, and they added £100 billion pounds to their wealth last year.  That’s less than 200 people getting 100 thousand, thousand, thousand, pounds.  How is it in a country like this that kids are going to school and asking for food because they are hungry in the morning, and older people are sat shivering with the heating off because they can’t afford it? 


Food banks do an amazing job with people in desperate straits.  UNISON’s own charity gave out cold weather payments of over £1m to members last year.  But these are really just sticking plasters when a proper safety net is needed to ensure everyone has a decent minimum standard of life. 


The Scottish Human Rights Commission says there should be a right to food to be incorporated into Scotland's laws,  and I’d suggest a warm home should also be a basic human right for everyone. 


Aberdeen is sometimes seen as a wealthy city.  But even before the pandemic, 30,000 food parcels a year were being distributed from foodbanks in city and shire.  Aberdeen has households than the Scottish average with financial problems, or in deep financial trouble.  A quarter of households are in fuel poverty, and half of those are in extreme fuel poverty.  Deprivation has been rising. 


This needs action from those we elect.  A little bit of extra money has been announced by the UK government and will flow through to Scotland.  This is of course welcome, but we know the truth that it won’t scratch the surface of the problem for most people.  But it does tell us something.  It tells us that governments are not able to completely ignore the outcry over this.  And the louder we make that outcry, the more they will have to listed. 


Marcus Rashford and Jack Monroe have been excellent cheer leaders for change, but it is the huge number of people supporting them that have made politicians listen. 


This is about choices.  There can be a choice for a windfall tax on the £40 billion that energy companies have made in profits in this year alone.  There can be a choice for a wealth tax on those at the top who can afford it.  There can be a choice to properly invest in public services, and in the workers who deliver them, to address years of inadequate pay and understaffing that erodes the quality of the services and places stress on those delivering them. 


In France, where the energy companies are nationalised, the government has decided that energy prices will only rise by 4%, instead of 54% here.  There is nothing inevitable about the crisis which people are facing - these are choices which governments can make. 


The Bank of England has said that workers should accept wage restraint to help keep inflation down.  Maybe you’ve been receiving bumper pay packets in the last few years?  If so well done!   But I don’t think so.  Your pay has not caused inflation, and as workers, the very least we expect is for pay to keep pace with rising inflation. 


There is no competition between people working in different areas.  We won’t fight amongst ourselves for the crumbs from an ever-diminishing cake.    There should be no pay cuts, and the government should know we expect ALL public services to be properly funded, and properly staffed. 


Friends, this is the start of a campaign.  Well done for turning out today, and go back and tell your colleagues at work about this and make sure they come to the next event."