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UK cost-of-living crisis unmoved by queen's death

·3-min read

Many things are on pause while Britain mourns Queen Elizabeth II, but the concerns of shoppers at a popular London market highlighted that the cost-of-living crisis was not among them.

"Now, you have to check every invoice, and everybody checks the prices before buying anything," said 62-year-old Carole Bayllie, who sells kitchen utensils at a small market stall in Walthamstow, northeast London.

Spiralling inflation and falling purchasing power dominated the media and political agenda before the death of the queen, which was announced hours after new Prime Minister Liz Truss last week unveiled a landmark policy to freeze energy prices.

Politicians had only just returned from their summer break, which was consumed by the battle to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, when they were once again sent home from parliament, unable to act on the crisis.

Aslam Jan, owner of a computer and money transfer store in the market, said that underlying economic concerns were hitting his business.

"You can see it in all the market: people don't spend as much money as before," Jan said.

"Most people who used to send money to help their family at home can't do it anymore."

The reason is the UK's 9.9 percent year-on-year inflation, with energy bills soaring since last winter.

Next to the food and clothes stalls, the main shopping street has two outlets of the same German discount supermarket, along with other low-cost stores that attract frugal shoppers.

Rumi Dimitrova, a 47-year-old Bulgarian cleaner, comes here "because the shops are less expensive."

"Since Covid it is difficult, but now it is becoming very difficult," she said, as she left a used clothing store empty-handed.

Dimitrova gets by with the help of her son, who also lives in London, she explained.

- Harsh reality -

Stall owner Bayllie said she would cut back on heating her home this winter to save money.

"Obviously (the queen's death) is very sad, a lot of people respected her, but the facts of life don't change," said Gary Nash, founder of "Eat or Heat" food banks.

His organisation, created during the 2008 financial crisis, has several food distribution sites, including one near the Walthamstow market, that cater for hundreds of people each month.

Those using the service are "mostly people who are working full time but still can't pay their bills," he said.

Wage increases in certain sectors are still far from offsetting the effects of inflation, which could rise further in the coming months.

"Average wages have been falling for seven months now and that is set to carry on into next year too," Lalitha Try, an inequality researcher at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said ahead of Truss's announcement, the impact of which is so far unknown.

Average wages could fall twice as much as during the 2008 financial crisis, she warned.

With recession predicted before the end of the year, her think-tank expects three million people will fall into poverty, although the measures announced by the government could limit the damage.

- People 'worried' -

Political debate, which had been febrile before the queen's death, has been put on hold until at least Monday, when the queen is laid to rest.

Labour MPs have been instructed by the party leadership to speak to the media only to pay tribute to the queen, according to an internal memo revealed by The Guardian newspaper.

In the midst of the tributes to Elizabeth II, a few rare voices regretted that politicians were focussed on her death and parliament paused despite the urgency of the economic crisis.

Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng is still expected to make a budget statement on Friday to clarify the support measures announced by Truss, which are likely to be worth more than £100 billion ($115 billion).

"I know they had to stop parliament because of the protocol, but people are still worried and they should have compromised," said Bayllie.

mhc/jwp/rjm/lth