ONE can hardly keep up with the news since the government’s spectacular mini-budget fiasco.
The market was spooked by the budget – announced by chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in September – with the pound at one point falling to its lowest rate against the US dollar since 1971. The Bank of England had to intervene to save UK pension funds, with a promise to buy up £65bn of government debt – so called “gilts”.
The verdict of think tanks like the Resolution Foundation – as well as that of the International Monetary Fund and global economics consultancies like TS Lombard – was damning. Kwarteng has since been sacked, to be replaced by Jeremy Hunt.
Most of the mini-budget has since been scrapped – with the exception of stamp duty concessions – and the fuel cap, which will cost £60bn over the next six months, is now only guaranteed until April. At which point it looks likely to be means tested, with the emphasis now on balancing the books over borrowing to pay for tax cuts.
More austerity beckons and the knives are out for Liz Truss – after just weeks in power. The Economist even wondered if she would outlast the shelf life of a lettuce.
The budget U-turn came after mortgage rates hit a 14-year high, and it is hoped rates can now stabilise.
Locally, there has been much concern about how hard pressed families will cope. Average wages in South Dorset are low – in Purbeck £26,000 per year – yet prices, especially private rents, are already too high for many. Our pleasant countryside hides real poverty, as revealed in a recent report, “Forgotten Towns”, authored by Emeritus Professor Phil Marfleet and Jenny Lennon-Wood of South Dorset TUC.
On October 1, an Enough is Enough demonstration took place in Weymouth, attended by a lively crowd complete with a Red Choir from Bridport.
Similar protests took place all over the UK. I marched with demonstrators through the old town. Speakers from the RMT, UNISON, UCU and CWU spoke near the King’s Statue.
They spoke of the need for fairness, for pay rises to match inflation, for essential services such as schools and the NHS to be properly funded and for children not to go hungry.
Weymouth Labour town councillor Lucy Hamilton gave her support to those now striking for higher pay.
Labour activist Claudia Sorin spoke of how underfunding made it almost impossible for schools to support youngsters with special educational needs.
Caz Dennet from Extinction Rebellion reminded us the green light given to fracking by the new government would directly affect thousands of Dorset residents. Three outfits have already been granted licences to explore a wide swathe of countryside including Corfe Castle, the Lulworth Ranges and Swanage.
Standing by the King’s Statue, the words of the Red Choir stayed with me: “Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.”
Chairman, Swanage and Rural Purbeck Labour Party