Bill Ralston: Covid, Ukraine, cost of living crisis – We thought 2021 was hell, until 2022 came along
And we thought 2021 was bad, locked down in our homes, waiting for the plague to strike. We thought it was hell but, apparently, Hades was reserved for 2022.
With crushing petrol prices, wider inflation is at a 30-year high and the average weekly grocery bill has risen by $50. Someone somewhere is reported as paying $15 for a cauliflower.
It is a “cost-of-living crisis”, according to the Opposition parties, but the Government at first resolutely refused to use the word, thus provoking still more media coverage as to whether it is a crisis.
However, the consensus now seems to be that it is a crisis, and Labour has announced some relief at the petrol pump, reducing fuel excise duty and road-user charges by 25 cents per litre for three months, meaning a potential saving of between $11 and $17 per tank of fuel.
National’s Christopher Luxon has proposed tax cuts to help hard-pressed families, leading to Labour claiming he wants to line the pockets of the rich by knocking off the top tax bracket of 39 cents in the dollar.
Little wonder the political opinion polls have become volatile.
The upside of the cost-of-living crisis is that it has distracted us from the Omicron crisis and the Ukraine crisis. We can do little or nothing individually to deter Putin from trying to crush a nation, and many of us watch, mouths agape, at the monumental Covid infection figures released daily, glumly facing the likelihood at least half of us will get it sooner or later.
I suggest we apply the same technique we use for the Ukraine and Omicron problems and simply accept that prices will rise rapidly and try to make the best of it.
At my place, we have begun to economise. It is no hardship to refuse to buy cauliflower – I detest them – but we have found a small local store that sells vegetables it grows itself. Its cauli is a saner price of $4.99.
We try to avoid shopping at the greedy supermarket duopoly. On the relatively rare occasion we do go to one of them, we tend to buy only products that have a “sale” sticker on the shelf. I try to lessen the impact of the rocketing price of petrol by trying the old-fashioned technique of walking. It can take ages to get anywhere, but my fitness levels have become much higher than they were before I started pounding the pavements.
The three crises are, of course, closely linked and the cost-of-living crisis comes as a result of the other two. Any government here would have relatively little control over rapidly rising prices and costs as a result, but that will not stop Labour absorbing the negative effects in the political opinion polls. We have to have someone to blame, although I can sympathise with Jacinda Ardern. It is slightly unfair to blame her for the pandemic and the Russian tanks rolling towards Kyiv.
While the Labour/Greens combos and National/Act are locked in step in the polls, the minor parties must be taking heart that, maybe, they have a chance to sneak into government in 2023. The Māori Party might be able to get its two members back into the House and put Labour back into power. New Zealand First will be hoping Winston Peters can resurrect its chances (again), but all of this is more than a year away and we have a painfully long way to go.
We just have to acknowledge 2022 is going to be a pig of a year, but we can survive it.
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