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Ministers must avoid cost-of-living ‘catastrophe,’ Labour and unions demand as inflation hits a 30-year high

by our industrial reporter @TrinderMatt

TORY ministers must act to avert a cost-of-living “catastrophe,” Labour and trade unions are demanding, as inflation hits a 30-year high.

Soaring food costs and energy bills saw the consumer price index inflation rate hit 5.4 per cent in December, up from 5.1 the month before, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed today.

The last time it was higher was in March 1992, when inflation reached 7.1 per cent.

With gas and electricity costs set to rise again when the energy price cap is revised in April, experts predict it will reach that level again.

The data came a day after the ONS said take-home pay — adjusted for prices rises — fell by 1 per cent in November, the first decrease since July 2020.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed he “understands the pressures people are facing,” but TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged him to develop a plan to help tackle the crisis. 

“Families are facing a double hit from high inflation and slowing wage growth,” she said. “They need more help from government.”

Unite slammed the government’s “jiggery-pokery” with the figures, arguing that the retail price index inflation rate, which has risen to 7.5 per cent, is more accurate as it includes housing costs.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the union is pressing ahead with plans to develop its own system, adding: “Workers can no longer allow the government to force them to take what amounts to pay cuts based on ‘gerrymandered’ statistics.”

GMB head Gary Smith suggested the “chickens are coming home to roost,” due to Britain lacking a “discernible energy strategy” for years.

He said: “GMB members across the UK facing this cost-of-living crisis are taking on bosses and winning the big pay rises they deserve. 

“Employers should be aware: workers want better and will take action to get it.”

Price rises “make a mockery” of below-inflation pay increases for public-sector workers, Unison leader Christina McAnea stressed, adding: “The government must boost the money available so wages can keep up with rocketing prices.”

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden warned that the “triple whammy” of rising energy bills, falling real wages and Tory tax rises would exacerbate the crisis. 

“Labour would give families security, with fully funded measures now to keep energy bills low, saving most households £200 off their bills, with targeted extra help to the lowest earners,” he said.

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