Dr Simon Opher is a GP from Dursley and the prospective parliamentary candidate in the general election for Stroud Labour Party.
As I made yet another referral to the foodbank in my surgery the other day, I wondered how on earth have we got to this…
Britain is the 6th richest country in the world, yet we rely on the voluntary sector and local councils for basic warmth and a charity to feed people. I might be mistaken, but I would have thought the basic role of government is to ensure national stability, first, and then to ensure that people can heat their homes and feed their families. Our government is failing on all three counts.
The cost of living crisis is driven by a hike in energy prices, partly due to the Ukraine war and the fall-out from Covid. In truth, both were unavoidable.
However, the Conservative government made decisions that have left Britain vulnerable, impoverished, and less able to deal with the crises we expect (winter flu, for example), let alone the unexpected and unpredictable. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were vaguely competent, but they’re not: they simply stumble from one self-imposed crisis to the next.
While this is playing out, we also have a very acute climate crisis, which the government is effectively ignoring – and in some instances, denying. It can feel very depressing.
The solution to this is to convert rapidly to a sustainable energy system from which we can all benefit. Labour has committed to make the UK’s energy 100% renewable by 2030 (by both reducing demand and increasing renewables), which will see prices fall and end our reliance on tyrants around the world.
This will also provide well-paid and highly skilled jobs, both in Stroud and nationally, made possible by the work of our schools and colleges working with an entrepreneurial business sector – especially the small and medium-sized companies that thrive locally.
On top of this, we need to make the country fairer. It would take a nurse 22,000 years to earn as much as our Prime Minister currently has stashed in the bank. There is a grossness to how inequality has played out.
As usual, it is the compassion of the people of Stroud that helps us through this crisis. Charities step up to support vulnerable people, ignored by the government. The foodbank is run by charitable donations and volunteers and is providing essential nourishment to our neighbours. Organisations such as GL11 in Cam (amongst others), are providing warm spaces, WiFi and hot food over the winter, every day of the week.
So why have we come to this? My feeling is that it is a result of unfair policies over 12 years which make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Only radical change can alter this. A progressive tax system helping to rebuild better public services and lift people out of poverty would transform society. Maybe then I won’t have to keep signing those foodbank vouchers.