Five ways to lift living standards

19 September 2022
Josh Lees

Workers’ living standards are being pushed down as capitalists raise prices and hold down wages. While the wages share of national income is the lowest on record, corporate profits are at their highest. Big companies, especially the energy giants, are profiteering from a global supply shortage by jacking up their prices to take more money out of workers’ pockets and put it in their own. Other companies are jumping on board the profit-price spiral, from banks to supermarkets to landlords, to preserve and expand their bottom lines at our expense.

Along with fighting for above-inflation wage rises, there are five things that could be done to address this crisis. If we had an economic and political system not totally in the service of profits over people, they would all be no-brainers:

Price caps on power bills, rent, food, other essential items and interest payments on mortgages. Energy companies and supermarkets are making huge profits while working-class people can’t afford groceries and heating. Banks are raising interest rates on loans that they have already made. Landlords who own several properties are raising rents. Make it illegal, and enforced with fines and criminal penalties for the most egregious profiteers.

Renationalise the energy market. Privatisation has benefited only the rich and been a disaster for everyone else. Electricity supply and distribution should be brought back into public hands, with cheap power for households and a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to stop climate change being the top two priorities rather than profit-making.

Public housing and rights for renters. Everyone knows Australia’s housing market is a scandal. But the problem is that we have a housing market at all—one of our most fundamental needs should not be subordinate to profit-making and hoarding by the rich. We need a massive public housing program. Before the program was gutted in the 1980s, the UK housed almost a third of its population in public dwellings. In Australia, social housing accounts for just 4 percent of dwellings.

Instead of spending $294 billion on nuclear submarines, we could use the money to build or acquire the hundreds of thousands of public housing properties that are needed. And if we need more, there are plenty of half-empty mansions in Vaucluse and Toorak just crying out for new, more worthy occupants.

Free, expanded public transport. Free public transport would instantly save households a chunk of money every week. Along with a big expansion of services and routes, it would give people an alternative to the daily extortion of petrol prices and toll roads.

Tax big companies and the rich. In the 1980s, the company tax rate in Australia was 49 percent; it’s now just 30 percent. The Australia Institute reports that five of the biggest gas companies paid no income tax in the last seven years, despite making $138 billion. Overall, about a third of Australia’s biggest companies regularly pay no tax.

The federal Labor government has pledged to continue the Liberals’ huge “stage three” tax cuts for the rich, which will give people earning more than $200,000 a year an extra $9,075, and cost the government $184 billion by 2032.

Meanwhile, a $300 per week raise to JobSeeker and Youth Allowance would cost $13 billion per year, and help push wages up more generally.

Every dollar given to corporations and the rich is a dollar that could be used to raise the dole, pensions and the wages of nurses and teachers, or to give subsidies to people to offset rising prices, put food on the table or keep the lights on.

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