THE cost of living has become a key battleground as we approach next year’s general election.

And given today’s news it is no wonder, as hard-working Oxfordshire families continue to feel the pinch.

Rail fares and house prices are inexorably linked.

Homes closer to city centres invariably are far more expensive than those further afield as people try to live close to where they work and avoid the drudgery of the daily commute.

Even those near transport hubs see a hike in prices as residents can make the daily grind a little easier.

And so more and more people are looking further afield and having to take multiple journeys just to get to work.

The added commute adds up on the yearly travel bill and further erodes increasingly small disposable incomes made worse by stagnant wages.

Then they are hit by above inflation rail fares.

The county’s commuters have had to budget for a fare increase of more than 20 per cent over the past five years, despite wages barely rising in the same period and in addition to the increase in other outgoings such as energy bills and the weekly shop.

The rail companies claim the money is spent on improving infrastructure.

But when commuters face days and days of signalling problems and cannot often even get a seat, it is hard to see where the money is going.

At a time when councils and the Government alike are trying to increase the use of public transport and reduce congestion, these hikes make a mockery of the plans.

Ultimately, most commuters face no alternative but to fork out whatever fares rail operators decide to set and put up with whatever service is provided – good or bad.

And this can have a detrimental effect on the county’s productivity as a whole, with prospective employees dissuaded by astronomical house prices and eye-watering transport costs.

While councils may not control the purse strings, local government needs to lobby and persuade those in Whitehall to look again at the formulas that gives the green light for rail operators to ramp up prices.