The viral picture summing up Boris Johnson’s cost-of-living crisis

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·Freelance news writer, Yahoo UK
·4-min read
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You would struggle to find a picture that more accurately reflects UK politics in 2022.

Taken at a north London community centre by voter Usman Khan during Thursday’s local election polls, the picture shows a sign reading “food bank” to the left and “election” to the right.

A simple demonstration of what the cost-of-living crisis means - and will continue to mean - for Boris Johnson, the picture went viral on Twitter, being shared more than 20,000 times.

A sign at Queen's Crescent Community Association for a food bank in one direction and a polling station in the other. (Usman Khan/@healthandthings/Twitter)
A sign at Queen's Crescent Community Association for a food bank in one direction and a polling station in the other. (Usman Khan/@healthandthings/Twitter)

It was at Queen’s Crescent Community Association in Gospel Oak, which runs a food bank every Thursday and has reported a growing need for the service with each passing week.

The association’s CEO, Foyezur Miah, told Yahoo News UK the sign is indicative of the decisions voters will make as they continue to be hit hard by massive inflation spikes as energy, food and fuel bills spiral upwards.

But he said: “It wasn’t intended as a ‘message’ at all. Our office manager had been sweating and working really hard to ensure we didn’t need to close down the food bank [because of the elections]. We closed down all the other services but struggled to reconcile the thought of closing down the food bank to make the space for the polling station.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 06: UK prime minister Boris Johnson reacts as he paints a portrait of the Queen during a drawing session with children as part of his visit at the Field End Infant school, in South Ruislip, on May 6, 2022 in London, England. In yesterday's local elections the Conservatives retained control of the borough of Hillingdon council with 30 seats to Labour's 23. Hillingdon is home to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's parliamentary constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. (Photo Daniel Leal - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has been facing the first set of election results since the cost of living crisis began. (Getty Images)

“So the sign was completely unintended, but in a sense it reflects the choices we have to make. Are the elections the more important thing going on in people’s minds, or is it the need to eat and survive?”

While turnout is never high at local elections, Miah said he felt the cost-of-living crisis has led to voter apathy.

“That is one angle to take away - there has been a drop in turnout in this ward [33.5% on Thursday, compared to 36.6% in 2018]. It kind of shows the confidence people have in the government, but also their priorities.

Watch: Bank of England predicts cost-of-living 'hardship'

“In Gospel Oak there are high levels of deprivation. People are worried about their next meal, how they are going to keep up with their rent and utility bills. That is the big worry in the minds of the general population.

“After COVID we have had a series of crises as a nation and there hasn’t been a real solution to support disadvantaged families and people on lower incomes. We are facing people with big financial problems.”

As an example of the growing reliance on food banks, the Trussell Trust charity recently reported 2.1 million emergency food parcels were delivered in the 2021/22 financial year - nearly one million more than in 2016/17.

Crates at a food bank in north London. Food bank managers across the UK have warned of an accelerating food crisis as the cost of living continues to soar. (PA)
Crates at a food bank in north London. Food bank managers across the UK have warned of an accelerating food crisis as the cost of living continues to soar. (PA)

In March, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of support including a £200 up-front rebate on energy bills from October – though this will have to be repaid over five years from 2023 – plus a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D effective this month. However, this was widely criticised as not going far enough.

Sunak was then engulfed in a scandal surrounding his millionairess wife Akshata Murty’s non-dom status, which meant his family potentially saved tens of millions of pounds in taxes. This wasn’t illegal but in the wake of the row, Murty said she would pay taxes on her overseas income.

Johnson's ministers have also been accused of tone-deaf comments about the cost of living crisis - such as environment secretary George Eustice's suggestion for shoppers to choose "value brands" in supermarkets.

Read more: The everyday food items that are soaring in price

It's in this context - also including the Partygate scandal - that Johnson admitted on Friday his Conservative Party had endured a “tough night” after suffering a string of losses in the council elections.

The prime minister said he took full responsibility for the results as Labour strengthened its grip on London and the Liberal Democrats also made gains at the Conservatives’ expense.

He said the government will "get people through the economic aftershocks" of the cost of living crisis.

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