From New Zealand to Nigeria: the global toll of the cost of living crisis | World news



Australia

A photo of iceberg lettuce heads with $11.99 (£6.80) price tags went viral in recent weeks – leading to a wave of a tongue-in-cheek lettuce memes nodding to rising food, fuel and energy prices.

The cost of vegetables alone has increased 12.7% year-on-year. Recent floods ruined crops in New South Wales and Queensland, while the cost of fertiliser is up 120% from 24 months ago.

Empty lettuce shelves are seen at Camp Hill Woolworths supermarket in Brisbane,
Empty lettuce shelves are seen at Camp Hill Woolworths supermarket in Brisbane. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

Soaring power prices are also threatening to stoke further inflationary pressures. Gas shortages and climbing wholesale power prices across some states could lead to a particularly bleak Australian winter for some.

Low-income earners have been hardest hit.

Jeff Laming, a 42-year-old disabled single father from regional Victoria, can’t afford to eat roughly five days out of every fortnight. “We haven’t eaten fresh fruit or vegetables since February,” he said, adding that he is suffering from scurvy.

Jeff Laming lives in regional Victoria and can’t afford any fresh fruits or vegetables
Jeff Laming lives in regional Victoria and can’t afford any fresh fruits or vegetables. Photograph: Supplied by Jeff Laming

“Frozen oven-baked meals, low-quality mince meat, two-minute noodles and no-name brand pasta, paracetamol and occasionally soap” were all the items on a regular weekly shop, he said.

Samantha Lock in Sydney


Belgium

Inflation is running at 9%, the highest in 40 years, and an average household could face a €500-€600 increase in the cost of living by the end of the summer, one leading economist has forecast. Belgium’s National Bank has said citizens are offered some protection because of indexation policies linking wages to prices, although it also warns that this threatens competitiveness.

Altamirano Zoila Palma has been running the Saint-Josse friterie in Brussels for 12 years.
Altamirano Zoila Palma has been running the Saint-Josse friterie in Brussels for 12 years. Photograph: Jennifer Rankin/The Guardian

Altamirano Zoila Palma, who has been running the Saint-Josse friterie in Brussels for 12 years, said bills had gone “really over the top”. Gesturing at the counter, the Ecuadorian-born trader, who works six days a week, 12 hours a day, added: “Everything has gone up: the fat, potatoes, packaging, electricity, gas, paper, serviettes, forks.”

But she hesitates to raise prices at her kiosk, located in the poorest commune in Brussels, where a large cone of frites costs €3. “I haven’t yet decided because I’m afraid my customers won’t come any more. Because already people tell me it is dear.”

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels


Germany

Inflation, measured as the year-on-year change in the consumer prices index, rose to 7.9% in May, the third record rate in a row since reunification in 1990.

In the car-centric European nation, the crisis has been felt and debated most acutely at the petrol station, where drivers have had to pay more than two euros a litre since March, in spite of government efforts to push down prices.

Workers at Hamburg harbour strike for higher wages in front of a banner reading ‘Stop the Inflation Monster’.
Workers at Hamburg harbour strike for higher wages in front of a banner reading ‘Stop the inflation monster’. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

Energy products in May were on average 38.3% more expensive than in the same month last year, while groceries were up 11.1% year-on-year.

“Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell my customers what the latest price is for a cauliflower, or a bottle of rapeseed oil,” said Ünal Kayan, who runs a small greengrocers on a busy shopping street in central Berlin. “It’s bad, and I fear it’s going to get worse,” he added. Since rising production costs have not yet all been passed on to customers, the trend is expected to continue in the coming months.

Philip Oltermann in Berlin


India

The annual retail inflation rate is above 7%, wreaking havoc on the tiny budgets of families who have yet to recover from the Covid pandemic. Aside from grains such as rice and wheat, which are provided free for the poor, the price of almost every single item of food has gone up sharply. The cost of vegetables rose by 56% in the last month alone, partly because of a heatwave and partly because of rising input costs.

Indians in Kolkata, West Bengal, protest fuel price rises in front of the head office of Indian Oil Kolkata.
People in Kolkata protest against fuel price rises in front of the head office of Indian Oil Kolkata. Photograph: Dipa Chakraborty/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Rising fuel prices are making it hard for ordinary Indians to fill their scooters to get to work. “I shop for vegetables late in the evening now to buy whatever the vendor wants to get rid of. They’re not fresh at all but I have no choice,” said Ankita Singh from Delhi.

Amrit Dhillon in Delhi


Ireland

In one of the richest countries in the EU a fifth of the population is said to be struggling with soaring prices. Rises in rent, fuel and food have pushed families into poverty and piled pressure on the government for more supports and tax cuts.

Irish hauliers stage a blockade organised by the group People of Ireland Against Fuel Prices.
Irish hauliers stage a blockade organised by the group People of Ireland Against Fuel Prices. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Social Justice Ireland, an advocacy group, estimates the overall poverty rate at 19% when housing costs are included, far higher than the official rate. A 7.8% increase in prices in May – the highest rise in 38 years – has been aggravated by an annual increase of 15% in property prices and surging fuel prices.

“I can’t afford to live in Dublin any more, it’s crazy,” said Vivienne, an architecture student who plans to leave Ireland.

Over the past 12 months gas has risen 54%, diesel 40%, electricity 28% and petrol 24%, hitting households and businesses, leaving no one untouched, according to the Consumers’ Association of Ireland. Some meals on wheels providers have doubled the price of a meal to €10. Calls to the charity St Vincent de Paul have jumped 20% compared with last year.

Rory Carroll in Dublin


Israel and the Palestinian territories

Israel, where the cost of living is already excessive, has not been as badly affected by the crisis as other high-income nations, but the country has one of the globe’s largest income wage gaps, with the bottom 50% making 19 times less than the top 10%. Surging housing and petrol costs have sparked street protests in Tel Aviv and Beersheba this month.

Inflation has risen nearly 4% over the past year – the highest it has been in nearly 11 years – and the average price of household goods climbed 2.3% in 2022 so far. Israel’s housing crisis has also sharply worsened, with prices increasing 13% year on year in 2021 compared with 2020, and rising now by more than 1% a month.

A protest against Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and fuel prices in the West Bank city of Hebron.
A protest against the Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, and fuel prices in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

For many people in the occupied Palestinian territories, where the poverty rate is about 31.3%, price rises of even a few shekels can ruin farmers and agricultural workers who are already struggling.

“People are having to sell their sheep for several reasons, but mainly the cost of food,” said the Bedouin farmer Abu Fadi, 52, at his home north of Jericho. “One tonne of food cost 1,300 shekels [£308], and now it’s 2,000 [£473].”

Bethan McKernan in Jerusalem


Italy

Consumer price inflation increased to 6.8% in May – the highest level in more than 23 years – and energy prices have climbed 42.6% year-on-year.

Many Italians are either out of work or employed on salaries that have hardly grown since the early 2000s, and have been feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis for months.

Italians conduct an ‘empty pots’ protest against rising living costs in Piazza Santi Apostoli, Rome.
Italians conduct an ‘empty pots’ protest against rising living costs in Piazza Santi Apostoli, Rome. Photograph: Simona Granati/Corbis/Getty Images

“Petrol has been going up for a long time now and also some food items, for example coffee,” said Alessandra Lupo, an art curator in Rome who is out of work. “Even if the price has only gone up by a few cents, you really feel the difference. But the biggest difference is energy cost – this is really out of the ordinary.”

Lupo said her most recent two-month gas bill was €216, compared with €55 before the energy crisis, and for electricity she paid €150, over double the amount she used to pay.

Angela Giuffrida in Rome


New Zealand

Inflation is at its highest in 30 years, with annual food inflation sitting at 6.8%, and at 10% for fruit and vegetables.

Rising living costs have far superseded Covid-19 as the most pressing issue on New Zealanders’ minds. Ipsos polling in June found people rated cost of living as their number one concern – with related issues like housing costs and petrol prices ranked closely behind. One in five were finding it difficult to manage financially and 85% were concerned about the rising cost of goods and services.

As a result, people are turning to the techniques of their forebears – preserving, gardening, foraging, cheese-making and self-sufficiency – to try to stretch grocery budgets further.

With food prices rising steeply in New Zealand, people are turning to urban foraging to find affordable food
With food prices rising steeply in New Zealand, people are turning to urban foraging to find affordable food. Photograph: Naomi Haussmann

“People are struggling,” said Katherine Riddell. “The price of fruit and veggies is horrific.” In her 50s, Riddell is on a fixed income, and has started running workshops on preserving. She asks community groups if people have gluts of fruit or vegetables to get rid of, turning them into chutneys, pickles and sauces.

Occasionally, the pursuit of savings creates scenes that could have leapt from a 1950s household advice column. “A friend gave me 4kg of beef fat,” Riddell said. “I’ve been rendering that down over a few days to use as lard or tallow so I don’t have to buy oil.”

Tess McClure in Christchurch


Nigeria

The central bank said last week that rising inflation could become a “galloping trend”, as it announced the first rise in interest rates since 2016, mirroring moves in Ghana, Egypt and elsewhere.

Food inflation rose again in April to 19%, with the naira continuing to devalue against the dollar. Like many other countries on the continent, Africa’s largest economy is highly reliant on food imports and therefore very exposed to price fluctuations.

The country’s economic woes stretch back far beyond the current crisis, however. High inflation, a depressed jobs market and a devalued currency have all cast a cloud of the economy.

Residents of Oworonshoki slum in Lagos carry food parcels distributed by the Lagos Food Bank Initiative.
Residents of Oworonshoki slum in Lagos carry food parcels distributed by the Lagos Food Bank Initiative. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Theresa Aderele, a 24-year-old who helps her mother sell water from the compound of her home in Onikan in Lagos, said: “It’s the same story everywhere; the price has been going up and up. People complain but what can you do?”

The cost of transport to work, food, electricity prices and gas have all gone up steadily over the last six years, and worsened even further this year. “Every single person, those that have much and those that have less, they’re all feeling it. I don’t think people even factor the war in Ukraine [as part of the reason for their struggles],” she said. “It’s how things have been in the country for a while.”

Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos


The Philippines

The cost of fuel has soared so rapidly that drivers of tricycles and jeepneys say they can barely afford to keep going. Call centre companies, worried their employees can’t manage the commute, have called for home working. The World Food Programme, which in April reported a 40% increase in fuel costs since the start of the year, warned its operations would be negatively affected.

The cost of corn has risen by 24.4% year-on-year, vegetables are up 15.2%, and oils and fats have increased 13.6%, according to government statistics. More than 12.2% of Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months, according to Social Weather Stations.

Orlando Garcia, a 60-year-old tricycle driver from Manila, used to be paid Php 1,300 a day (£20) but how he’s lucky if he can make just Php 700. Not only are there fewer customers, but gasoline prices have soared. “Every day it’s increasing,” he says. He can no longer afford to fill his tank.

Orlando Garcia with his tricycle.
Orlando Garcia with his tricycle. Photograph: Guill Ramos

His earnings only just cover the cost of food for him and his family, and he makes do with simple foods, eating fried fish on its own, and cheaper mung bean dishes. “Sometimes I just choose to cook dishes with fewer ingredients,” he said.

Rebecca Ratcliffe and Guill Ramos


South Africa

All but the very wealthy have been hit by price rises in one of the most unequal countries in the world.

For the middle classes, soaring costs of fuel, electricity, medical aid and education are reducing spending power. But for the tens of millions who have always struggled, existing on low wages, intermittent work or government grants, the highest levels of inflation in many years have made life much tougher.

Workers strike outside a Makro store in Johannesburg.
Workers strike outside a Makro store in Johannesburg. Photograph: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

Prices of staples such as maize flour and cooking oil have risen sharply due to grain and oilseed supply shortages after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In many poor neighbourhoods, there is now a flourishing market in used palm oil.

“You can get 20 litres for 350 rand (£18), which is half of what it costs new. So we are thinking about doing that,” said Precious Chawalala, a 37-year-old waitress who lives in Cosmo City in north-west Johannesburg.

Like many restaurant staff in South Africa, Chawalala earns no salary, making a living from tips. The cost of the minibus that takes her to work has just gone up by 20%, after nationwide fuel price increases. “I am mixing maize and rice to keep the costs down. Everyone is struggling,” she said. “We talk about it at church on Sunday but we can’t help each other out like we used to do because everyone used all their savings during Covid.”

Jason Burke in Johannesburg


Taiwan

The consumer price index (CPI) rate rose for the third month running in May, reaching 3.4%, while fuel prices rose by almost 13%. In March, the central bank increased interest rates for the first time in over a decade, by a quarter of a percentage point, raising them again in June to 1.5%

About a quarter of the CPI rise came from rising prices for food, the government said last week. Food prices have gone up by 7.4% from 2021, and even more extremely for some staples. Eggs, of which there was a months-long, island-wide shortage earlier this year, were almost 28% more expensive than they were in May 2021.

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James Lei, 27, isn’t just struggling with higher prices, but also recurring shortages of products. “Like eggs or a certain brand of udon noodle I really like, it’s hard to find them in the supermarket,” he said. “The things I buy are more expensive now, it affects my budget and I have to spend more … and I’m saving less.”

Helen Davidson and Chi Hui Lin in Taipei


US

Across the country workers, businesses and consumers are wrestling with the same issues. Soaring demand has been met by pandemic-related supply shortages and rising gas prices driving up costs for everyone. In May the annual rate of inflation hit 8.6%, the steepest increase since 1981. Wages are rising too, but, for most, not nearly at the same rate.

“I just put $70 (£57) in my truck. Before all this happened it probably cost me $45,” said Anna Diggs, a hotel worker at the Westgate in Las Vegas.” Everything is going up, just not my wages.” Her youngest son wants to move out but with rents soaring too, he can’t afford it. “He’s very discouraged,” she said,

Gas prices in the US now average over $5 a gallon, up from $3 a year ago.
Gas prices in the US now average over $5 a gallon, up from $3 a year ago. Photograph: Gene J Puskar/AP

This week the average price of a gallon of gas in the US passed $5, up from just over $3 last year. Disruptions from the war, Covid and weather-related issues have driven up food prices, too, and inflation is rearing its head in housing costs, used vehicles – up 16% in May from a year ago – air fares, hotels and apparel.

The Federal Reserve announced its highest rate rise in 28 years on Wednesday as it seeks to tame inflation. The Fed chair, Jerome Powell, said the central bank was determined to bring prices down but warned that given soaring oil prices and the war in Ukraine, achieving that goal may “depend on factors we don’t control”.

Dominic Rushe in New York



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