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“We now face a cost-of-living crisis”: the consequences for poor and working-class people

  • The nation is set to see the biggest drop in living standards in years.
  • Food, electricity, and heating costs rise dramatiically. 
  • Public demanding change through governmental policy 

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, households have been finding it increasingly difficult to pay for necessities such as food and heating – as the cost of living has increased drastically.

This is the experience of Anne Nesbeth, 60, a hard-working grandmother currently on universal credit and working at a food bank to alleviate the suffering of others. She has felt the rise in the cost of living, especially, with regard to the increase in fuel prices.

She was left with a £70 reading on her pre-paid meter to pay for the month, something she cannot afford as she is struggling financially and concerned that at some point debt collectors might be knocking on her door to recover energy debts she cannot afford to pay.

The £20 cuts on universal credit announcement, by the government, will make matters worse for Anne as she is already having to make the difficult choice between eating and heating.

Heating

Anne said: “It’s impacted me greatly, I never thought it would be this hard. This year the fuel price has gone up more and it has never been this hard before.”

The inflation currently stands at 7%, the highest it’s been for almost 30-years. Meanwhile, since wages have stagnated for over a decade, it is the poor and working-class, just like Anne, who have been hit the hardest.

“Sometimes I choose not to use the heating,” Anne said.

Instead, she chooses to sit down under the electric blanket, which her daughter bought her as a Christmas present, or only turn on the heating in one room for maybe an hour or put it on in the bedroom before going to bed.

“But this is still not enough heating for a 60-year-old woman”, she added.

People are increasingly finding themselves in energy debt. Ofgem announced a new cap on energy that would rise by 54 percent in April. This means people on the default tariffs will see an average increase of £693 a year, while those on prepayment meters will see a typical increase of £708 to £2,017.

Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Gorton, has made his stance clear about the little help offered by the government for people in need.

He said: “Households are bracing themselves for the biggest drop in living standards in 30 years.

“We now face a cost-of-living crisis with prices rising steeply and everyday essential food items going up even faster.”

Affordable

Mr Khan has noticed a higher percentage of people relying on food banks in his constituency.

“The usage was already unacceptably high before the outbreak of the pandemic and has skyrocketed since,” he said.

“The Labour party is calling for the government to set out a national strategy for food, including how it tends to ensure access to high quality, sustainable, affordable food for all.”  Anne said she has noticed working at a food bank that the number of people on the breadline is increasing and families are queuing up for food.

Affected by the spike in fuel and food prices, she said: “Myself and a lot of family members nowadays find ourselves having to make the tough choice between eating and heating and I am struggling to cope at this age.”

A report last year from the Trussell Trust found a record of 2.5m food bank parcels given to people in crisis. It has called on the government to do more in tackling the food crisis.

Anne said the rise in food cost has had an impact on her – psychologically – and on some days she does not know where her next meal is coming from.

She said: “Watching something on the news about just a packet of spaghetti and how it’s gone up by 30% - it is difficult.”

Inflation

Grant Fitzner, chief economist at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), painted a picture of the worsening situation.

“Inflation ticked up again in January, reaching a near 30-year high,” he said.

“Clothing and footwear pushed inflation up this month.

“There were still the traditional price drops, it was the smallest January fall since 1990.

“The rising costs of some household goods and increases in rents also pushed up inflation.

“However, these were partially offset by lower prices at the pump, following record highs at the end of 2021.”

As well as inflation going up, household income will be affected by changes in tax and benefits, which includes an increase in National Insurance contributions.

Anne’s struggles are not an isolated scenario. 4 million British households are in some sort of fuel poverty – with the vast majority going without heating as they prioritise eating instead.

NEA research estimates predicted that a further 2 million households will be in fuel poverty. That’s 6.5 million households in total and a 50% increase in just over six months.

Even some of the members of the Conservative party such as Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, are concerned about the spike in cost-of-living in their constituents – and recognise that more needs to be done by the government to help the people in need.

He said: “My worry about everything that is gone on is that it is a distraction because they are all focused on firefighting when they should be focused on helping the public cut their bills.

“The real elephant in the room is that people are struggling to feed their families and to have a decent quality life.”

The #eatandheatcheap campaign aims to provide a cheaper alternative energy system and food cost to the four million households struggling between a choice of eating and heating.

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