Some discount stores and supermarkets are now said to be restricting the amount of bulk rice that customers can buy. They claim that this is due to "shortages on the world market". Maybe so, although it could just as well be a justification for more price increases. After all, the retail giants can sell smaller quantities and still increase their profits - they just have to put prices up!
The cost of gambling with food and fuel
The one thing on which there is no doubt is that prices are still increasing. A new report published last week showed that food prices in supermarkets increased by 5.8% over the first five months of this year alone.
This figure covers a "typical basket of 100 products" and conceals big differences. The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables increased by 16%, but cauliflowers are 44% dearer. The price increase for rice is 33%, 25% for margarine and 7% for meat and fish. Strangely enough pet food is included in this "typical basket" and we are told that its cost is down by 1.5%. Maybe this is to tell us that if we cannot afford rising supermarket bills, we should try to live on pet food?
Whatever the retail giants may claim, this is not due to shortages. The same banks and investment funds which created the housing speculative bubble, went on to gamble with food, creating a speculative food bubble and driving prices sky high.
It may be hard to conceive how it is possible to speculate on something as vital as food. But this is one of the features of this rotten profit system. Big finance runs the show and it feeds on gambling with anything that can be bought and sold.
For years now, much the same has happened with oil. Speculators, including oil and gas giants, have been pushing prices up. Hence today's ever-increasing petrol and fuel bills. Driving a car is already a luxury these days. Heating one's home may well become one as well very soon.
This allows the oil and utility giants to make tens of billions on our backs. Yet, the government, which has bottled out of increasing taxes on these companies' profits, is now considering offering new tax breaks to oil bosses allegedly to "encourage" them to increase North Sea oil production! As if capitalists needed to be "encouraged" to make more profits!
However, ministers acknowledged that there is a real problem for 2.5m "fuel poor" households, which spend 10% or more of their income on fuel. Darling boasts of having solved it by getting the utilities to fork out £225m over the next 3 years to help them. But even if they do, this means only a derisory £2.50 "help" per month and per household! Who wants such charity from these profit sharks?
Ministers' latest bright idea is to hand over tax and benefit details to the utilities, supposedly to help them in "targeting their help". Yet, it is not hard to imagine what they will do with this data - like the banks, they will try to get rid of"bad customers", i.e. the poorest!
Reclaiming our due
Of course, it is merely day-dreaming to believe that financial speculation, which is the main cause of our problems today, can be legislated away - even if there were politicians with the political will to do it, which is not the case. Speculation is built into this system in which anything can be bought and sold for a profit. Getting rid of speculation will only be achieved by ridding society of profit itself.
In the meantime, with prices and bills going sky high, our wages are lagging far behind. Using official data, the average wage settlement is now around 11% below the annualised 14.5% real food price inflation, and this is not taking oil and fuel into account. Something needs to be done about this.
Crisis or not, society remains awash with money. The big banks, which played bingo on the housing market and lost, had no problem getting shareholders to provide them with new fresh cash. And for good reason since, throughout the housing bubble, the banks' richest customers and shareholders have been cashing in handsomely on rising housing price. Despite today's crisis, society as a whole is not poorer than before. Only inequalities are now even greater.
The working class can make sure that it does not foot the bill for the rich's crisis. Bosses must be made to increase wages in line with real inflation as a bottom line. The government must be made to take the money needed to increase pensions and social expenditure out of the inordinate profits of big business and the £600m of additional VAT it earns from higher petrol prices. A tall order? Maybe, but one which could be within the reach of our class, if we really chose to use our collective strength to go for it.