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Marina Ahmad: ‘The cost of living crisis – I will use every opportunity at City Hall to highlight the financial struggles that local people and businesses are facing’

Going into the New Year, it is important that we remain optimistic about our gradual recovery from the pandemic and come together as a community to work towards this. But it would be irresponsible not to raise alarm bells about the impending cost of living crisis which will hit local families and households.

Inflation is at its highest point in 30 years and is currently outstripping wages. Energy bills are set to sharply increase. The cost of transport is rising and pay-packets are about to be hit by the hike in National Insurance contributions. It really is the perfect storm.

This all raises the question of what welfare system and national minimum wage is for if they do not even help to cover the costs of basic necessities?

In Southwark, the latest stats show that 40,000 people were claiming Universal Credit in the lead-up to Christmas. This large section of our community is set to be the hardest hit as food prices are pushed up and when energy bills surge this April. Many are already facing the daily struggle of putting enough food on the table or keeping their homes warm as winter bites.

Bermondsey widow among one in ten Southwark residents hit by cut to universal credit

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently called on the Government to double Universal Credit payments to help the lowest income households weather this upcoming spike in the cost of living crisis. At the very least, VAT on household fuel bills should be scrapped as an urgent measure.

However, Ministers have not yet shown any indication that they will be willing to take the bold action needed to stop thousands more Londoners from falling into poverty.

It is not just Universal Credit that needs fixing. Too many Londoners are being forced out of the capital by increasing rents and even more of the poorest families with young children are left with no choice but to live in homes that are too small and unsuitable.

The Mayor is stepping in here by addressing the core issue of social housing supply in the capital and has equipped Southwark Council with £90 million to invest in this. However, in the shorter-term, the Government must increase Local Housing Allowance to cover the average rents in boroughs like ours, where there is a growing chasm between the most well-off and the most deprived.

Plunging thousands more Southwark residents into hardship will also have a knock-on impact on local businesses as their spending power is reduced. The Financial Times has recently published figures showing that in-person sales across the borough have declined by 29 per cent, with the food, drink and entertainment sectors seeing a 49 per cent decline.

In the coming months, I will use every opportunity at City Hall to highlight the financial struggles that local people and businesses are facing and urge the Government to take the action needed.

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