“If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living…”
So said, then Prime Minister Theresa May in her first statement as Prime Minister. The so-called ‘Jams’ — those “just about managing” — briefly became a focus of Government economic policy. At the time, the Resolution Foundation said that Jams were not always low-income households.
Six years on, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadim Zahawi, has cautioned that the ever-deepening cost-of-living crisis is going to reach ‘middle earners’ including “a senior nurse or a senior teacher on £45,000 a year…” whose energy bills will “probably rise even higher in the new year — it’s really hard”.
Similarly, two Ipsos polls published last week show how pervasive concern about the crisis and its impact is:
· 32% of Britons admit it has been difficult for their household to afford paying their energy bills in the past three months — 47% among those in households earning less than £20k a year but 26% among those in households earning £35k to under £55k and a similar 22% among higher-earning households. The survey was undertaken before Ofgem raised the energy price cap last Friday.
· Inflation and the cost of living are the most salient issue of concern among all income groups with middle and higher income groups also concerned about the general economic situation, and lower and middle income groups also relatively more vexed than others by petrol prices.
We have probably passed a point of inflexion. Back in October 2021, I speculated that a “Maslow moment” — a period when matters such as food, fuel, finance, security of housing tenure, prices and personal safety come to the fore — could elbow out “Overton window strategies” and the short-game would trump the long one.
Since then, things have got much worse and the Government’s political capital has faded fast. Labour has been an earlier adopter of the Maslow mindset; according to one point of view in The Economist, it has eschewed wonkery for pragmatism and popularity.
The JAMs have become mainstream again; according to Ipsos, a quarter of Britons have skipped meals since the start of the year in response to rises in the cost of living (probably many millions of people are not even “just about” managing). Two-thirds of people want the energy price cap to be frozen. This is very urgent stuff.
After an interminable selection contest, Britain is days away from getting a new Prime Minister. Normally, a new Prime Minister would be assessed on his or her first 100 days and expect some sort of honeymoon bounce. It feels as though 100 hours might be more apt this time with a shotgun honeymoon at best.