Sociological Perspectives on the Cost of Living Crisis in the UK

Inflation in the UK hit 9% in April 2022, mainly due to the rising cost of energy prices and food prices, the main cause of which was supply-line shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, but also because of the longer term disruption to business caused by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic….

At least that’s the ‘official analysis’ of the causes of the cost of living crisis by the government in this recent report: ‘Rising Cost of Living in the UK‘ but while it’s hard to deny the fact that prices of basic goods and services are rising, some sociological perspectives may well go a little deeper than this in their analysis of the causes of this crisis, while others fail to explain its existence altogether…

Globalisation… and the declining relevance of Nation States…

EVEN if we look deeper at the cost of living crisis than official lines of analysis, it is still the case that global events are affecting Britain here.

Britain has very little control over the global forces that are influencing rising prices.

Moreover the British Government seems incapable of doing anything to help people. This of course is because we have a neoliberal government in power who believe in helping people as little as possible, especially the poor but even if we had a more left wing government in power it wouldn’t be able to do very much to soften the blows of the increasing cost of living other than taking on more debt by bailing people out.

This seems to be a case of Nation States being too small to deal with global problems as Anthony Giddens has pointed out in the past.

Marxism applied to the rising cost of living….

As with many ‘applications’ of ‘Marxism’ I’m applying some Marxist concepts here in a broad sense!

Most obviously Marxists would remind us that this cost of living crisis is affecting the poorest MORE than the richest – the top 10% will feel the effects of the crisis much less than the bottom 10%.

And for the bottom 10% of households by income a 10% immediate increase in the cost of living (NB it’s not just energy and food, rents have also gone up) really is a matter of choosing between ‘eating or heating’.

And Marxists would go deeper than this – reminding us that a crisis such as this was only a matter of time because Capitalism is ultimately doomed to failure. Even without the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine this rising cost of living affecting the poor more than the rich would have happened eventually, or Capitalism would have had some other ind of crisis which resulted in recession and more inequality.

In a world of finite resources and increasing population, with more developing countries developing large middle classes (such as India) this simply pushes the prices of everything up – labour, goods, resources, everything is more expensive – eventually the exploitation of the poor that cheap consumer items and food and energy are based on must come to an end.

At some point we have to start thinking about how we live in a post-capitalist world according to Marxists.

‘Micro Perspectives’ applied to the Cost of Living Crisis

This is an interesting article from the Conversation which argues that the government needs to measure poverty depth more accurately in order to effectively tackle the cost of living crisis.

It points out that not all people living in poverty face the same challenges – for example life tends to be harder for people with children rather than single people.

It also points out that government help needs to be more targeted on those that need it most – so far only 1 in 3 pounds of relief money has gone to the poorest 50% of households.

Perspectives which might struggle here..

Functionalism would struggle here, this is just dysfunctional! And clearly people aren’t all in this together!

And PostModernism – there’s nothing hyperreal about this, it’s very REAL, about energy and food prices costing enough and people going cold and hungry.

Although maybe IF people are living in hypereality this could help get them through – maybe the government jus needs to subsidise people’s Netflix subscriptions…?

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This topic is most likely to be useful in the Theory part of the theory and methods exam – it is a contemporary event that can be used to illustrate understanding of sociological concepts and perspectives.

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