The United Kingdom (UK) experienced a tumultuous 2022 that has hit workers hard.
Last year saw three separate prime ministers in the UK, including Liz Truss who resigned after 46 days, and who was followed by Rishi Sunak, the wealthiest PM to set foot in 10 Downing Street.
In September 2022, after former PM Liz Truss announced the plan to abolish the 45% tax rate for earnings over £150,000 (about $182,000)– the biggest tax cut since 1972 – the British pound experienced a sharp drop in value against the U.S. dollar, and the country was consequently punished by the world market. Soon after, Truss revoked that tax plan, abandoned her budget proposal, and eventually resigned, but will still receive a yearly payment of £115,000 for the rest of her life. But throughout all of this, the working class suffered as the already painful economy became even more unbearable while the pound recovered.
Since Rishi Sunak (the latest and wealthiest Prime Minister) began his new term, there have already been delays in social care reforms that were previously announced under Boris Johnson, which would have provided more financial aid to the National Health Service and capped how much any person in England would have to pay towards social care in their lifetime at £86,000. But instead the working class has been forced to continue paying excessive fees for at least another two years while suffering from stagnant wages.
At the same time, the UK has been experiencing an ongoing energy crisis. Starting over a year ago, there were dramatic increases in gas prices due to a shortage from the ongoing pandemic. By February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and gas prices skyrocketed by 25% in the first month alone, with the number steadily increasing for the rest of the year. As 85% of the country relies on gas boilers due to poorly insulated infrastructure, there’s no surprise that energy bills have seen a drastic jump in the UK compared to other European countries.
Although the UK government has implemented an energy price freeze for two years to average out the annual household energy cost at an already pricey £2,500, and has also provided a temporary 6-month £400 financial assistance with energy costs (each household is provided roughly £66 to spend on electricity), prices are still expected to increase to £3,000 for the average household. But that the 6-month financial assistance can easily be drained simply by turning on your stove.
In what has been reported as the most brutal UK winter in over a decade, residents are having to choose whether to keep warm and have a hot meal, or risk paying outrageous energy prices just to survive the freezing temperatures.
But that’s not their only problem. The cost-of-living crisis continues to rise for other basic needs, including the highest rise in food prices since 2008. And as the effects of Brexit continue to run rampant throughout the UK, working people are adding nearly £6bn to food bills in two years, or an additional £210 to the average household grocery bill.
But workers aren’t waiting for the useless government to offer them more favorable circumstances or for their ruling class to decide to be nice to workers. As 2022 ended and as 2023 begins, their fight back continues.
In just the past few months, hundreds of thousands of working people have gone on strike and hit picket lines. Postal workers, cleaning service workers, railworkers, port workers and teachers are just some of the workers who have either voted to strike or participated in one-day and rolling strikes. In a historic decision, the largest nurses union, with 300,000 members, voted to strike nationwide on pre-planned days so that emergency and critical care can still be maintained. In many cases, non-union workers joined in with striking workers to show support for more funding for rail and health care.
While it’s too early to tell where all this will lead, it’s clear that many workers in the UK have had enough, and they’re ready to fight back, and their struggles serve as an example to working people everywhere.