Harlow is one of Essex’s most deprived towns.
Nearly a third of households here have a yearly income of less than £20,000 and nearly two-thirds of households have less than £125 of spare cash left at the end of the month for non-essentials. A quarter of all homes in Harlow are council houses.
This, then, is a place where every penny counts and the cost of living squeeze is keenly felt – not just by its residents but its local Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who is desperate for the prime minister and his government to prioritise pounds in pockets over parties.
Mr Halfon is here having his lunch in the local “Cornish Cafe”. He often comes here to eat and chat with constituents and told me that he wanted the PM to focus on helping people with the cost of living squeeze.
He urged the government to cut VAT on fuel bills and look again at green levies on consumers’ bills – suggesting a sliding scale so when energy prices spike, green levies reduce.
He said: “If the government could institute a system where if the international energy prices go high, the green levies escalators go down. Even if you don’t get rid of them completely, you can lessen them.”
He is frustrated. Born by the PM’s seeming lack of focus on what, he says, is by far the most pressing issue for this government and the country, and the “unnecessary distraction” of the party scandal, which has left Mr Halfon and his constituents “upset and distressed.”
But he has little time too for Tory party infighting and calls to get rid of Mr Johnson, arguing that it will only further distract his government and party from tackling the issues people really care about.
“Forget about operation red meat”, he said. “The public want operation cost of living.
“My worry about everything that’s gone on is that this is a distraction, because they’re all focused on firefighting when they should be focused on helping the public cut their bills.
“The real elephant in the room is people are struggling to feed their families, to have a decent quality of life. That is not acceptable.”
The MP’s view is echoed by the parents and teachers we spoke to at Jerounds Primary School, just a short drive from the café. Chatting to three mums – all with 10-year-old children in the school – it was clear that they are worried about the cost of living squeeze coming down the tracks.
Mother of four Naheeda told me: “Wages are not necessarily going up with inflation, in line with the cost of living.”
Asked whether she had noticed it at the supermarket, day-to-day, she replied: “Yes definitely. Whereas before you knew how much the weekly bill would be, now you’re too scared almost… you think – what’s it going to be!?”
Hayley Marsh said the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift “made a real difference”.
“I was used to having it, now it’s just gone,” she said. As rates and bills rise, days spent taking her son out for pizza, or for fish and chips, “will go out the window.
“I’ll have to save more in advance just for a little trip out.”
But Boris Johnson’s party scandal has cut through here too – with Hayley very angry, while Siobhan more forgiving but nevertheless dismayed that politics and infighting was distracting from getting on with dealing with issues that matter to families; from the cost of living to the post-COVID recovery.
Hayley “really struggled” with her mental health living at home alone as a single parent.
“And then he’s there having cheese and wine laughing ha ha ha!” she said.
“I was in a real crisis moment. I should have seen someone.”
Siobhan, though, says she’s trying to look at the “bigger picture.”
She said: “I kind of think the nation would struggle with a change to prime minister more than anything else at the moment.”
The PM told Sky News last October worries over inflation were “unfounded”, only to find three months later inflation hitting a 30-year high with all the price rises it brings for consumers. It suggests the PM, who won the 2019 election by claiming to be the leader for the working man, hasn’t grasped the nettle.
Even if he wants to his entire operation is consumed by the Downing Street party scandal, with the prime minister firefighting to save his job as another crisis lies in wait.
Source : Sky.com