With the dawning of the new year, our minds focus upon the challenges ahead. Covid is clearly still with us and there is real concern over the rapid increase in cases and the ability of the NHS to cope with the pressure, not only in terms of beds and the postponement of other medical treatments, but also the number of staff who are unable to work due to having contracted Covid themselves.
Another key concern for many is the rate of inflation. As credit card bills which include Christmas expenditure hit the mat, the level to which prices have increased considerably over the past year becomes clear. The November inflation rate stood at 4.6% and looks set to continue to rise. This invokes memories of the 1980s, when mortgage rates went above 15% and caused misery to many who saw their homes repossessed. Clearly, action is needed now if we are to avoid a return to those days. One of the key causes of inflation is the increase in energy costs. These went up several times last year and some predictions are that an average household will see a further £700 p.a. increase. The Government could and I believe should take immediate action to address this. As energy prices increase so does the amount that the Government earn as these costs are subject to VAT. They could therefore cut the rate of this tax and still continue to earn the £135bn this brings into the exchequer, whilst easing the impact of these price increases on the consumer.
A group who are amongst the hardest hit by inflation are those on fixed incomes such as pensioners. During the coalition government, the Liberal Democrats pressed successfully for a triple lock on pensions, thus ensuring that pensioners would not fall further behind in real terms if inflation took hold. Despite a manifesto pledge by the Conservatives before the last election to maintain this policy, this promise has now been broken, meaning that instead of receiving an 8.1% increase in their pensions which the triple lock would have guaranteed this year, pensions will only increase by 3.1%, meaning that they are once again being left behind when inflation bites. Sadly, it looks like there are hard times ahead for most of us.