As Tom Newton-Dunn at The Sun has reported, with unemployment at 2.5 million, and petrol prices hitting 150 pence in some places, there is increasing evidence that higher petrol prices are causing higher unemployment.
In 2006, when petrol was just 95p on average, experts at the London School of Economics, and University College London, published research (PDF) showing that unemployed workers who could not travel to jobs and tended to stay “unemployed for longer”.
Since then fuel prices have surged by an astronomical 40%, despite the recession and many suffering from redundancy or wage-freezes. In fact, the UK pump cost of unleaded is now at an average 135p. In some garages it is hitting 150p or more.
But British families face no alternative to driving their cars and vans, as even rail fares are set to rocket by 13% causing misery for millions.
Fuel is already a huge burden. According to figures released by the Royal Automobile Club, the average motorist in my constituency of Harlow is getting fleeced for £1,700 a year just to fill up the family car. This is one tenth of the average Harlow salary.
As regular readers of ConHome will know, the Coalition has inherited Gordon Brown's disastrous plans to hike fuel duty by another 4p per litre in January and August 2012. However, while George Osborne has thankfully delayed these increases, he has not yet scrapped them entirely, even though petrol prices are fast becoming a major threat to jobs and the economy.
As the FairFuelUK campaign has proved, high petrol costs are literally driving people out of work. Three quarters of the transport company bankruptcies in the past year have been blamed on excessive fuel prices. Our fuel and carbon taxes are simply uncompetitive compared with our European neighbours. Only a few weeks ago, these grim statistics were revealed by insolvency firm SFP, who have warned that if we don't act now, there could be worse to come.
Cutting fuel duty now must be a priority for the Chancellor, over and above the clamour to cut taxes for millionaires. Rip-off petrol prices are now so high they are a poverty trap, keeping people on benefits, as job-seekers can’t afford to travel, and businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
And to those 'do-gooders' who say we shouldn't be using cars, I say: Get In The Real World. In my hometown of Harlow, the question is not whether can you afford to have a car – but whether can you afford not to. That’s why I urge everyone to sign our e-petition, to share it with their friends on Facebook and Twitter. If we reach 100,000 signatures, this will help us to secure an MPs' debate in Parliament. Our top priority now must be scrapping the 4p fuel duty increases, that are scheduled for January and August 2012.