Around half of PPE in storage is estimated to have an expiry date within the next six months. DFID/Flickr
While families across the UK struggle to cover the soaring cost of living, the government has been spending £7m a month storing wasted PPE.
Research by the National Audit Office revealed that billions of taxpayers’ money went on PPE at the start of the pandemic – often procured through ministers’ private contacts – which is either not fit for use or still in storage.
It means around 14.1 billion pieces of equipment – ten per cent of the total PPE purchased by the government – are costing the country nearly £85m per year just to store, roughly 3.6 billion of which are not suitable to be used by frontline services. Around half the equipment in storage will expire within the next six months.
The figures were released as campaigners criticised the government for offering too little support to low- and middle-income households which are toiling as the costs of food, energy and fuel skyrocket.
So what could ministers be spending £85m a year on instead?
Cavity wall insulation for 250,000 of the UK’s worst-off households
UK houses are the least energy-efficient homes in Europe. Yet the research is clear – building a sustainable future, both for the planet and for people on low incomes, means upgrading homes across the country, fast, to reduce reliance on energy to stay warm.
It costs around £345 for a professional to install cavity wall insulation in a flat. The government could cover the cost for 250,000 of the country’s most disadvantaged households, saving them an average £300 per year on energy bills.
Give people on legacy benefits the money they were owed before the cost of living crisis
When Covid-19 hit the UK, ministers increased universal credit payments by £20 per week before cutting the benefit back to pre-pandemic levels in October last year.
But people on so-called legacy benefits – the social security payments which pre-date universal credit, such as employment and support allowance – didn’t receive the increase. Most people on legacy benefits are disabled or long-term sick and face higher than average living costs to stay safe during lockdown.
In February, the High Court ruled against a team of lawyers and claimants who said the decision not to also increase legacy benefits was discriminatory, and then rejected their appeal to overturn the decision. It means the solicitors are now taking their case to the Court of Appeal itself.
With £85m to spend, ministers could give £1,500 backdated payments to 57,000 people – more than a quarter of total legacy benefit claimants – to cover the amount they missed out on because they weren’t on universal credit during the pandemic and give disadvantaged people a boost as the cost of living soars.
Extend the warm home discount to 607,000 households
The Warm Home Discount is a scheme giving people in poverty £140 off their energy bills in the colder months.
But with campaigners warning many are already having to choose between food and heating – and experts concerned the energy price cap could rise again this autumn – the government could spend £85m on extending the scheme to another 607,000 in-need families this winter.
Alternatively, £85m would help 123,000 households by covering the £697 extra set to be placed on direct debit energy bills from April 1 after the energy price cap hike.
Prevent cost of living pay cut for NHS staff
The cost of living crisis isn’t just driven by higher costs, but by stagnating wages which are lagging behind the real cost of daily essentials.
Workers across many sectors face a real-terms pay cut in 2022 between record-high inflation, a 10 per cent national insurance increase, a council tax hike and several other jumps in unavoidable bills.
One of the country’s ongoing pay disputes is between the government and its healthcare workers. Trade unions condemned ministers for offering nurses a pay rise of just three per cent this year, which the Royal College of Nursing warned means a real-terms pay cut for thousands.
A band five nurse with seven years’ experience will earn £400 less in 2022 than they did in 2021. The government could use the money spent on PPE storage just to maintain real-terms pay levels for 212,500 nurses.
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