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Bold Action Needed on UK Living Standards

Rights Approach Should Guide Economic Response to Spiraling Prices

A shopper puts fruit in her basket in a supermarket in London. The UK inflation rate has hit 10.1% this year, the highest level in more than 40 years.  © 2022 Frank Augstein / AP

The biggest domestic policy challenge for new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is to address spiraling energy and food prices, as the highest inflation rates in four decades undermines people’s basic economic rights. The ‘cost of living crisis’ hits people on the lowest incomes hardest – some are skipping meals to afford their bills.

With the government set to announce its “mini-budget,” here are three areas where human rights principles should guide policy.

Energy costs. The energy price guarantee capping the average household’s bills at £2,500 is a limited, positive step. But it caps bills at double what they were last year. With many already struggling to pay bills, people need targeted support to secure their right to an adequate standard of living. The government should consider offering greater support to poorer households who need it most. And to fulfill its human rights obligation to address climate change, the government should focus on clean energy rather than subsidizing fossil fuels.

Social Security. People have a right to social security. Millions depend on it to secure other rights, including to food and adequate housing. Yet the government has cut benefits in real terms twice in a year, with a £1,040 per year cut in September 2021 and a refusal to increase social security support to match inflation in April 2022. The government should change course and increase social security payments in real terms, factoring in rising food costs, which affect low income households most. Failure to do so will mean people go hungry and cold.

Disability support. People with disabilities face additional costs, sometimes called the “disability price tag.” If you need electric mobility aids, an extra fridge to hold medication, or the home temperature maintained high, you face disproportionately higher energy bills. A one-off £150 "disability cost of living payment" is not adequate. To protect the rights of people with disabilities, the government should establish properly funded disability benefits.

A genuine crisis affecting millions of people requires bold action to protect rights, including shoring up a crumbling social security system funded through taxation. Liz Truss’s plan to introduce tax cuts and lower government revenue while so many face hardship will likely make it more difficult to address these problems. Will the UK government choose to paper over the cracks, or strengthen the basic foundations people need to live in safety and dignity?

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