BORIS believes the force behind partygate is spent, so he’s refocused his motley cabinet crew on the cost-of-living crisis to make sure “help is reaching the hardest-hit and hard-working families across the country”. Purlease.

A special Number 10 press briefing says the PM has instructed his top team to “do everything possible” to help with rising living costs, insisting it is their “collective duty to grow the economy”. Departments will be expected to “double down on exploring innovative ways” to provide support, and work “at pace” to do so.

It would be comical if it wasn’t so damned serious.

This is just-in-time Britain, where public services were pared to the bone a decade back or privatised and thrown to the wolves.

The energy crisis may be the straw that’s broken the camel’s back. But the camel was already in terminally bad shape, long before Brexit and Covid.

The shrivelled British state has been throwing massive costs on to citizens for decades – costs we have learned to thole and will still thole long after Ukraine has stabilised and energy prices level off.

Being British is all about paying through the nose for poor-quality, solidarity-undermining, private-opt-out-encouraging, “public” services which are provided at a fraction of the cost by almost every European neighbour.

The biggest rip-off is childcare. The cost of a full-time kindergarten place in parts of London is a staggering £1500 per month. It’s not much less in Edinburgh.

But in affluent Norway, the maximum cost is £200 per month – the rest is paid by the state. That gives kindergarten staff the time, space, decent pay and respect to do an excellent job. And that allows well-educated and skilled young mothers and fathers to re-enter the workforce, confident in the knowledge that (after the first year) their children will be developing core soft-skills and speech, playing with other bairns at properly-resourced kindergarten.

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That’s why their school starting age (like 82% of the world’s other countries) is six or seven – a policy informed by research and enlightened self-interest – not four and five to suit Victorian factory owners, desperate to get mothers as cheap labour.

Despite some support measures from the British Government for the most vulnerable children, what’s basically changed?

This is the real cost-of-living crisis that’s been “priced in” to Britain for almost a century.

But without knowing how other societies work, we shrug and try to get on with it. Lying to workplaces when kids are ill, stressing constantly about costs and worrying constantly about childcare standards.

A few years back, I was speaking to a group of Conservative politicians from Norway.

They came to copy British shortcuts that would let them spend less on their own generous welfare state. Before the talk began, I asked them to guess the cost of a full-time kindergarten place in the city.

They simply wouldn’t believe the answer and spent time checking no mistakes had been made translating £1200 into Norwegian kroner.

“How on earth are you people managing to live here?”

Good question.

One appalled MP went on to ask how much a cleaner would earn on the living wage. A few back-of-the-posh-serviette-calculations revealed s/he might earn just enough to afford a full-time kindergarten place – but not much else.

That’s crippling parents, kids and our economy. Look around – there are staff shortages everywhere.

Of course, Brexit and Covid play a major part.

But young, skilled, trained parents across these islands are choosing to stay at home and live in poverty instead of going back to work – because they simply can’t afford the astronomical financial and emotional costs of childcare. Costs no other major economy heaps almost exclusively upon the bowed shoulders of its young parents.

Boris Johnson could choose to change this – but “interfering with family life” is not the Tory way. And so, Britain’s permanent cost-of-living crisis continues.

Expensive public transport is the second biggest burden facing all citizens of the British state. We have the highest rail and bus fares in Europe, and since soaring property prices have pushed key workers to the margins, young workers (especially those frazzled young mums) face hefty commutes to reach their workplaces.

This along with fear of late night street violence (particularly in London) has persuaded many to try and run cars – now of course, utterly unsustainable. But sky-high petrol prices are just the thick end of the wedge.

Every other part of the “cost of transport” has been unaffordable for years. What’ll happen? Nowt.

Despite all his talk of “urgency” Boris Johnson is set to prorogue parliament today, meaning MPs will be sent home for two weeks before the Queen’s Speech on May 10, so that anti-Johnson momentum stops building, as it would do if backbenchers were actually in Westminster, firing through some of the bills that have run out of time this session, or backing other emergency changes you’d expect from any government serious about protecting the poorest.

But of course, you know Team Boris isn’t serious. It’s Tory. And by their deeds, ye know them.

Take the third big cost placed on the shoulders of the Britain’s “hardest to reach” – a mean-spirited, inadequate, punitive and brutal benefits system.

Number 10 is wringing its collective hands about piles of benefits cash lying unclaimed. It estimates 1.3 million families are eligible for Tax Free Childcare, which could lop £2000 a year off childcare costs, and 850,000 eligible pensioners are not claiming Pension Credit, worth over £3300 a year. Now you could argue whether this unclaimed cash arises from lackadaisical claimants (the Tory line) or impossible to negotiate systems (the reality).

Or you could ask Whitehall to follow Scotland’s example and give eligible folk the cash they’re entitled to – without grovelling, form-filling or telepathy. The National reported earlier this week that Scottish parents and carers receiving the Scottish Child Payment will automatically receive the Best Start Grant, Early Learning and School Age Payments when their children become eligible. Without jumping through any hoops at all.

This is the right way to operate. It’s what many European states have done for years. And if Johnson really meant to “help the little people”, he’d do the same.

But we know it’s not Whitehall’s style or Downing Street’s intention to increase benefit uptake. Au contraire.

The DWP – with classic Scrooge timing – has just announced 2.6 million households will shift from six old-style benefits to a single Universal Credit payment in a fortnight’s time – smack bang in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis. These shifts have been disastrous in “ordinary” times. But clearly no-one in the dogma-driven DWP actually cares.

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Leaked Government documents show that almost a million of these “migrated” households will be worse off on Universal Credit, due to an effective income freeze every April as benefit rises fail to match inflation.

Meanwhile the Scottish Government’s just announced it’ll uprate the eight Scottish benefits by an inflation-matching 6%.

Boris Johnson’s Government could be “helping the poorest” right now by copying the Scottish Government. Instead, he’ll let MPs off for a fortnight, to save his own corrupt, inept, lying skin.

But there’s a structural, long-standing, cost-of-living crisis stalking Britain, and there’s only one escape for Scots. Independence.