UK cost-of-living crisis remains unaffected by Queen’s death

Soaring inflation and falling purchasing power dominated the media and political agenda before the Queen’s death

CARLOS JASO

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Much is on pause as Britain mourns Queen Elizabeth II, but concerns from shoppers at a popular London market have underscored that the cost of living crisis is not one of them.

“Now you have to check every bill, and everyone checks prices before they buy anything,” said Carole Bayllie, 62, who sells kitchenware at a small market stall in Walthamstow, Australia. North East London.

Soaring inflation and falling purchasing power dominated the media and political agenda ahead of the Queen’s death, which was announced hours after new Prime Minister Liz Truss unveiled the week past a historic policy of freezing energy prices.

Politicians had just returned from their summer vacation, consumed by the battle to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, when they were again kicked out of Parliament unable to act on the crisis.

Aslam Jan, owner of a computer and money transfer shop in the market, said underlying economic problems plagued his business.

“You can see it all over the market: people aren’t spending as much money as they used to,” Jan said.

“Most people who used to send money to help their families back home can no longer do so.”

The reason is UK inflation of 9.9% YoY, with energy bills skyrocketing since last winter.

Alongside the food and clothing stalls, the main shopping street has two outlets of the same German discount supermarket, as well as other low-cost stores that attract frugal shoppers.

Rumi Dimitrova, a 47-year-old Bulgarian cleaner, comes here “because the shops are cheaper”.

“Since Covid it’s been difficult, but now it’s getting very difficult,” she said, as she left a second-hand clothing store empty-handed.

Dimitrova is coping with the help of her son, who also lives in London, she explained.

Booth owner Bayllie said she would turn down the heat in her home this winter to save money.

“Obviously (the Queen’s death) is very sad, a lot of people respected her, but the facts of life don’t change,” said Gary Nash, founder of Eat or Heat food banks.

His organisation, created during the financial crisis of 2008, has several food distribution sites, including one near Walthamstow market, which welcome hundreds of people each month.

Those using the service are “mostly people who work full time but still can’t pay their bills,” he said.

Wage increases in some sectors are still far from offsetting the effects of inflation, which could accelerate further in the months to come.

“Average wages have been falling for seven months now and this is likely to continue next year as well,” said Lalitha Try, an inequality researcher at the Resolution Foundation think tank, ahead of Truss’ announcement, whose impact is so far unknown.

Average wages could fall twice as much as during the 2008 financial crisis, she warned.

With a recession forecast before the end of the year, his think tank expects three million people to fall into poverty, although the measures announced by the government could limit the damage.

Political debate, which had been feverish before the Queen’s death, has been suspended until at least Monday, when the Queen is laid to rest.

Labor MPs have been instructed by the party leadership to speak to the media only to pay their respects to the Queen, according to an internal memo revealed by The Guardian newspaper.

Amid tributes to Elizabeth II, a few voices lamented that politicians focused on her death and Parliament paused despite the urgency of the economic crisis.

Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng is still expected to issue a budget statement on Friday to clarify the support measures announced by Truss, which are expected to be worth more than £100 billion ($115 billion).

“I know they had to shut down Parliament because of the protocol, but people are still worried and they should have compromised,” Bayllie said.

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