Britain facing the most difficult Christmas in a decade, TUC warns

By Matt Trinder

THE TUC warned today that people are facing the most difficult Christmas in nearly a decade as rising inflation and low wages leave many struggling to cover basic living costs.

The trade union body pushed the Tory government for an urgent plan to get pay rising as new official figures showed that the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation surged to 5.1 per cent in November — its highest level since September 2011.

Higher transport and energy costs drove the increase, which was well above the forecast rate of 4.7 per cent, the Office for National Statistics said.

The independent body’s chief economist Grant Fitzner said that more expensive fuel, energy, clothing, second-hand cars and raw materials were big factors in the rise.

The data also revealed that the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation had soared to its highest level for more than 30 years — hitting 7.1 per cent last month, up from 6 per cent in October.

The increases came before the Bank of England’s decision on Thursday on whether to raise interest rates from historically low levels.

TUC general secretary Frances O‘Grady warned that many families will “struggle to keep up with basic living costs, let alone Christmas celebrations” this year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s October cut to universal credit “could not have come at a worse time,” she added.

“We need an urgent plan from the government to get real wages rising. Trade unions should have greater access rights to workplaces to negotiate improved pay,” Ms O’Grady said.

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“The Chancellor must fully fund real pay rises for public-sector workers and the minimum wage should go up to £10 immediately.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham slammed high-level calls for pay restraint to keep inflation down.

“Tell that to the CEO of Natwest — last year her wages went up by a staggering 85 per cent to £2.6 million,” she said. “There’s no restraint in the boardrooms, where it’s one wage rise for them and another for us.”

She pointed out that the headline ONS inflation rate was not based on the RPI rate.

“RPI, which includes housing costs, is a far more accurate measure of the real cost of living,” she said. “This is a hidden tax on workers’ wages.

“Unite will always seek wage settlements that reflect the true cost of living because anything else is a wage cut.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea pointed out that rising prices have “left public-sector pay well and truly behind.

She warned that without additional government funding for better wages, “hospitals, councils, police forces, schools and colleges are going to struggle to hold on to staff and won’t be able to attract new employees.”

GMB leader Gary Smith admitted that he was not surprised by the worrying new data.

“People everywhere are being hit with this cost-of-living crisis, but the lack of any credible energy and industrial strategy from this government is making things worse,” he said.

“It’s clear that there are more problems on the way, with the UK’s broken energy market set to increase prices even further in 2022.

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“It’s time the people of our country got the pay rise they deserve.”

The Chancellor claimed that he will spend £4.2 billion this winter to “support living standards and provide targeted measures for the most vulnerable.”

But shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden accused ministers of “looking the other way [and] blaming ‘global problems’” instead of taking meaningful action

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