The deepening cost of living crisis. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is facing growing pressure to help low-income households as the war in Ukraine pushes energy and food prices even higher. Food campaigner Jack Monroe and NGO experts described what the cost of living crisis means in practice to a House of Commons Select Committee last week: read journalist Nadine Batchelor-Hunt’s summary here.  

Benefits uprating. Social security benefits are uprated annually in April in line with the prevailing inflation rate the previous October. This means that social security payments (including pensions) will rise by only 3.1% next month despite inflation now likely to reach 7% or more. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) calculates that this will pull another 400,000 people into poverty. Around 9 million people on means-tested benefits and the state pensions will experience a £500 real cut in their annual income, with some families seeing a cut of £720. JRF is calling on the Chancellor to uprate benefits and pensions by at least 7%.  

Stagnating incomes. The IFS noted that higher inflation will wipe out ‘at least a quarter’ of the real terms increases to public service spending announced in the autumn Budget and Spending Review. It calculated that, if this is not reflected in higher public sector pay awards, the average public sector worker would see their gross salary reduced by around £1,750 in real terms, coming on top of over a decade of stagnating pay.

  • Sectoral collective bargaining to boost pay. The TUC’s Statement ahead of the Spring Statement argues that public sector pay and the national minimum wage should be increased in line with current inflation. It argues that the Government must also ‘recognise that collective bargaining is the most sustainable way to boost pay, and use the long-promised employment bill to give trade unions new powers to negotiate fair pay agreements across sectors.’ 

Reforming the welfare system. In a new working paper Oxford University’s Fran Bennett and Jane Millar look at the problems created by the design of Universal Credit. They argue that the integration and automation of UC ‘has created a juggernaut of mass means testing’, which is difficult to reform. (Blog post explainer here.)

  • Guaranteed Decent Income. The Commission on Social Security (whose Commissioners are all ‘experts by experience’ with lived experience of the benefits system) proposes the replacement of Universal Credit with a Guaranteed Decent Income paid to anyone whose earnings drop below £163.50 a week (half the minimum wage). The proposal was developed in collaboration with benefit recipients including carers, the unemployed and people living with disability. 
  • A living income for all. NEF’s Social Security for All programme takes what it argues are the best elements of a minimum income guarantee (targeted) and universal basic income (simplicity) to propose a Weekly National Allowance. This would replace the income tax personal allowance with a weekly payment of £47.30 to all citizens except the highest earners. ‘This would effectively reinvest billions spent on a regressive system of personal tax allowances into a redistributive approach to ensuring that everyone has a basic level of income’. NEF also proposes an auto-enrolment system for reformed Universal Credit so people can receive top-ups to their income whenever it drops below a minimum level, to avoid issues with eligibility, take-up and administration costs.
Weekly Updates

Energy and climate change

The Government’s energy security plan. The Government’s forthcoming energy security plan to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas is expected to include a relaxation of planning rules to allow a major expansion of onshore wind power, which has effectively been banned for the last six years. Boris Johnson has written in support of renewables in the Daily Telegraph. Highlighting how much existing renewables have already reduced energy bills (for more detail see this analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit), he vows to ‘double down on new wind power’. But he also called for increased extraction of North Sea oil and gas. 

Largest ever rise in CO2 emissions. Global CO2 emissions rose to their highest ever level in 2021, according to new analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The report cited the increased use of coal as the main factor behind the 6% rise from the previous year to a record-breaking 36.3 billion tonnes. IPPR researcher Laurie Laybourn-Langton outlines the risks of climate inaction and the lessons of the recent IPCC report on climate impacts. 

Climate change denial and culture wars. DeSmog’s Adam Barnett takes a look at the ‘climate science denial’ backdrop of Nigel Farage’s calls for a Net Zero referendum. Campaigner and commuications expert Paul Hebden's newsletter Campaign Salience outlines why climate campaigners should not get sucked into the ‘culture war traps’ being laid by Farage’s latest campaign.  

Heat and Buildings Strategy: CCC assessment. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published an assessment of the Government’s Heating and Buildings Strategy. The report is structured around five key themes: ambition, coherence and deliverability, gaps, the action needed on enablers, and how to manage near-term risks. The CCC’s Chief Executive, Chris Stark, provides a summary here

  • Market-based mechanism. The CCC’s Mike Thompson highlights some key thoughts on the strategy, particularly on the ‘market-based mechanism’ of requiring boiler manufacturers to install an increasing number of heat pumps. He argues that more ‘supplementary policy’ is needed. 

US windfall tax. Joseph Baines and Sandy Hager have called for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the United States in an article published by Common Wealth. It looks at the financial performance of the ‘big five’ US oil and gas companies and examines their claims that they are ‘performing while transforming’ - in other words, using their profits to invest in renewables.

Public services and inequalities

Investment in social care and childcare. In a new International Labour Organisation (ILO) paper, the Open University’s Jerome De Hanau assesses the costs and benefits of investing in transformative care policy packages. The ‘macrosimulation’ study looks at 82 countries, representing 94 per cent of world GDP and 87 per cent of total employment. It concludes that the annual public spending required to provide ‘universal, high-quality services of childcare and long-term care’ is a ‘substantial part of GDP’. However, it also finds that such investment could result in huge job creation in the care sector and beyond, with employment-to-population-ratios potentially rising by 6 percentage points on average and up to 10 percentage points for women. 


International Women’s Day bot. As companies used social media to mark International Women’s Day last week, feminist campaigners exposed the hypocrisy of those which themselves have high gender gaps. Using the handle @PayGapApp, Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome used data from the government’s gender pay gap service to create a bot which quote-tweeted celebratory #IWD2022 tweets with details of the median hourly pay difference between men and women in the companies concerned.


Ukrainian refugees. People in Britain who take in Ukrainian refugees will be given £350 a month under the government’s sponsorship scheme. Local authorities will also be given £10,500 per refugee to help with public services, and more if the refugee is a child of school age. The Refugee Council welcomed the initiative but criticised the gaps in the scheme and the continuing difficulty experienced by Ukrainian refugees seeking to come to the UK.


Central bank digital currencies. US president Joe Biden has issued an executive order on digital currencies, urging the Federal Reserve to ‘continue to research’ the creation of its own central bank digital currency or CBDC. In the FT, Gary Silverman explained why this ‘dry list of policy goals’ has been welcomed by the ‘crypto community’. Take a look at our previous Digest on digital currencies for more on the CBDC debate.