Britain is pausing to mourn the Queen — but its cost of living crisis continues

When the west London borough of Hounslow announced it was holding a cost of living “marketplace” on Sept. 14, officials promoted the event by saying it would connect financially strapped people with organizations that could help prevent “residents from reaching crisis point in the testing months ahead.”

On Tuesday, the organizers announced that they were postponing the event due to the Queen’s death.

“During this period of national mourning, as a mark of respect, Council events and events managed by the Council will be cancelled,” said Hounslow Cabinet member Shivraj Grewal in a statement to CBC News. The local council, which is the equivalent of a municipal government, organized and advertised the event, before ultimately making the decision to postpone it.

While the death of 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth has thrown much of the UK into a grieving period, the pause comes as the country grapples with a cost of living crisis spurred by rising inflation and soaring energy prices.

WATCH | The Queen’s casket leaves Buckingham Palace:

Queen’s coffin leaves Buckingham Palace to lie in state

Massive crowds converged on London to see the Queen’s coffin move in a horse-drawn carriage to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state.

For many Brits, multiple days of pomp and protocol paid for by the state are hard to square with what they see as an urgent economic problem the government needs to address now.

“The injustice and unfairness of the two-tiered society we live in is being illustrated,” said Karen Teulon in an email to CBC. Teulon was one of several Hounslow residents who criticized the council’s decision to cancel the cost of living event online.

She felt there was no need to postpone it, considering it wasn’t being held during the Queen’s funeral, and would wrap up before Wednesday’s ceremonial procession was set to leave Buckingham Palace.

While Teulon wasn’t planning on attending the cost of living event, she said she is “well aware” of the impact rising prices are having on people in her community.

Parliamentary business on hold

Hounslow is one of London’s poorest boroughs, where one in four people live in poverty, according to Trust for Londonan independent charitable foundation.

While the community event will be rescheduled for later in the month, a far more pressing issue is the government’s plan to roll out a £150 billion ($227 billion Cdn) package to freeze energy bills.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss, who met with the Queen just two days before her death, had announced the support package in Parliament on Sept. 8.

The coffin carrying Queen Elizabeth makes its way along Whitehall during the procession for her lying in state on Sept. 14. (Tristan Fewings/ via REUTERS)

Following her death, parliamentary business was postponed until after Sept. 21.

While the government says it plans to deliver a fiscal update later this month, no specific date has been set.

UK inflation, which is the highest in the G7, fell to just under 10 percent in August — the first drop since September 2021. Economists have warned that inflation will likely peak at 11 percent in October, when a new household energy tariff cap is set to begin.

The government plans to cap consumer energy bills for two years at an amount of approximately £2,500 ($3,800 Cdn) a year, which would avoid a major price spike that consumer advocates have warned could threaten millions of households and businesses.

Britain, which imports around 50 percent of its natural gas, is particularly vulnerable to the price spikes on the international market caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Surging food bank demand

Energy prices may be the biggest looming threat, but consumers are also struggling to keep up with the cost of food.

At a food bank in Hackney, an east London borough where nearly two in five people live in poverty, 400 food packages are being handed out a week. Pat Fitzsimons, the food bank’s CEO, says that in 2018, it was 100 a week.

A food bank in the London neighborhood of Hackney hands out around 400 food packages a week. But its donations are down, particularly among corporate donors. (Jean-Francois Bisson/CBC)

“I think we are meeting such a small proportion of the need in Hackney,” Fitzsimons said. “[It’s] quite frightening, actually.”

The problem is not just demand, but supply. Fitzsimons says food donations have dropped more than 50 percent in the last year, which is why she and others mused about putting out an appeal to the public, asking those who want to drop off flowers at Buckingham Palace in memory of the Queen to consider donating to a local food bank instead.

The Hackney food bank will be closed next Monday, the day of the Queen’s funeral, as it is for all bank holidays.

At the food bank on Tuesday, 73-year-old Beverly Maude Clark grew emotional as she spoke about her struggles with her health and finances.

Beverly Maude Clark relies on the food bank in Hackney, one of London’s most impoverished boroughs. (Jean-Francois Bisson/CBC)

When asked about the Queen’s death, Clark replied, “The Queen wasn’t for me, it was for the rich people.”

“I don’t think nobody is thinking about the poor people.”

King Charles’s challenge

As King Charles takes over the throne and begins his reign, Nigel Fletcher, a professor of politics and contemporary history at King’s College London, says the monarchy will likely make a concerted effort to pare itself down.

Fletcher says in terms of public expenditure, the costs of the monarchy are “not huge.” But during times of economic hardship, there is always a risk that the royal ceremony can seem over the top, particularly when it comes to a coronation.

King Charles will be keen to ensure that [the coronation is] not seen as excessively lavish, because I think that would be seen as not fitting the times.”

Nigel Fletcher, a professor of political and comparative history at the King’s College London, says King Charles will want to show solidarity with Britons who are struggling financially. (Jean-Francois Bisson/CBC)

Fletcher pointed out that when Queen Elizabeth got married in 1947, she used clothing rations to pay for her dress, and the materials that were used were deliberately not too luxurious.

At the same time, Fletcher says a lot of people view the pomp around the monarchy as an escape from daily life.

He believes that as King Charles continues to tour the UK, he will want to show concern and solidarity for those who are struggling financially.

Fletcher contends that after the Queen’s funeral is held, the government will get back to business, including passing their large energy bill relief package.

“Understandably, that has been completely knocked off the agenda.”

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