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Cost of living crisis ‘terrifying millions’, say Cambridge anti-austerity campaigners

Speakers at the Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity contrasted the sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots in Britain today at a protest against the cost of living in Cambridge this weekend.

People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched in 2013 to highlight social hardship resulting from austerity policies pursued by successive UK governments since 2010. The current cost of living crisis is the result of recent huge increases in fuel and energy costs, food prices inflation, low pay, the downsides of Brexit, and the fallout from both the pandemic and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The gathering outside Great St Mary’s church on Saturday heard speakers set out their concerns for the wellbeing of the nation’s citizens as the third day of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations got under way.

The first speaker, Niamh Sweeney, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, focused on the nation’s wellbeing after the four-day bank holiday is over.

“People are terrified of the bills that are going to come,” she said. “They need support, not lectures – what they really need is a system that isn’t stacked against them. They don’t care whether food is weighed in pounds or kilos – what they want is to be able to afford food.

Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity on King’s Parade, June 4, 2022. Picture: Mike Scialom
Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity on King’s Parade, June 4, 2022. Picture: Mike Scialom

“The government could do something about it but they are far too busy trying to keep Boris Johnson in power. We call on this government to bring this cost of living crisis to an end.”

Jason Scott-Warren, the Cambridge academic and climate activist, told those gathered outside the church: “The crisis we have is a cost of living crisis, and it’s one which is seeing millions of people sink ever deeper into poverty, and there’s another crisis – the climate crisis – which is being faced by millions of people around the world.

“But for the Tories and their buddies the pressing question is how to get more oil and gas out of the North Sea. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that investing in new fossil fuel production and power plants is ‘moral and economic madness’, but the government is determined to keep the gravy train running, and is refusing to take the obvious steps, such as insulating Britain.”

The cumulative effects of multiple crises caused the Cambridge Marxist Society speaker and PhD student Kevin Kenneday to conclude that something wider is afoot.

“Fixing this crisis isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “This is a crisis of capitalism. You can’t fix capitalism with capitalism, but you can fix capitalism with socialism and I think this is just around the corner. We’re not going to accept crumbs from the tables of rich people forever, or see thousands of homeless people in London while the royal family stages their parties. We’re finally going to kick the Tories out.”

The following speaker, Tom Hobson, secretary of Cambridge UCU, also addressed events in London this weekend.

“The costs, £28million, of these events is grotesque,” he said. “It’s such a large figure – just think what a fraction of that could do for your organisation. There’s millions that can’t afford to turn on their heating. We have 250,000 homeless people in the UK. The Trussell Trust says 2.1 million food parcels were handed out in the past year. We are here to stand together to say ‘We will not stand for this barbarism’. We’re here to demand change. We’re a small gathering but we’re here to make history.”

Organiser Tom Woodcock of People’s Assembly outside Gt St Mary’s church
Organiser Tom Woodcock of People’s Assembly outside Gt St Mary’s church

A passerby-by yelled out ‘Up the Tories’ but it wasn’t clear whether this was voicing support for the party in government, or another gesture.

Cllr Anna Smith, leader of Cambridge City Council, also spoke, saying that the council is committed to helping the community get through the cost of living crisis. She rejected the suggestion of “feckless citizens, as the government likes to portray them”, adding that this crisis “is not about people not being able to manage their budgets but about a deep inequality – an avoidable situation and of the government’s making”.

The final speaker, Jay Williams, of Cambridge Stand Up to Racism, said: “As we know, minorities get screwed down hard in these situations and we know an attack on one of us is an attack on us all. What they want to do is divide people.

“Look at the disgusting measure that is seeing someone seeking asylum be deported to Rwanda” – shouts of “shame” from the 100-plus crowd – “and these are people who came here. The Jubilee is about exploitation, slavery and the massive wealth built out of that, and people deserve reparation…. We have to find an end to the danger of it all. We smashed Tommy Robinson, we smashed the EDL, we smashed the National Front and we need to take it all the way now and smash the system that created them.”

The crowd then proceeded to chant their way down King’s Parade.

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