Cost of living crisis: ‘I honestly have no idea how I will manage’
Parents going without food and pensioners relying on charity as government rejects calls for urgent action
By Natalie Bloomer
“A financial timebomb will explode for families in October as a second round of fuel price rises in six months sends shock waves through every household and pushes millions over the edge.”
These were the words of former chancellor and prime minister Gordon Brown at the weekend as he called for an emergency budget to tackle the growing cost of living crisis. He wrote in the Observer:
“Boris Johnson, Sunak and Truss must this week agree an emergency budget. If they do not, parliament should be recalled to force them to do so.”
The need for immediate action is something those working on the poverty frontline agree with. In Northamptonshire representatives from a number of food banks met recently to discuss concerns over what they fear will be a growing need in the autumn and winter.
The Kettering food bank has been open for 12 years. They say there has been a steady rise in the numbers of people they help over that period but that things always tend to quieten down over the summer without the added pressure of people needing to heat their homes. This year though, that isn’t the case.
“The numbers we are seeing at the foodbank are unprecedented for this time of year,” Jane Calcott, a trustee of the food bank says.
“This year was the busiest June we’ve ever had. We gave out the equivalent of 5,780 meals - around triple the amount for the previous June.”
Jane says the type of people coming to the food bank are changing too.
“We’re seeing pensioners for the first time. We’ve never had that before, they’re saying they’re finding it hard to cope, that’s new for us. We’re also seeing more people in work than before. People tell us they can’t afford to get to work but if they don’t go they’ll lose their jobs so it’s a catch 22.”
A new report from poverty expert at Loughborough University Professor Donald Hirsch has found that the help being offered by the government to the lowest income families is not enough to cover what they will be losing. Changes to Universal Credit, an annual uprating in April of 3.1 per cent rather than the nine per cent that the Consumer Prices Index had risen over the past year, and the increase of the energy cap are all are all contributing towards the shortfall.
This comes as a number of campaigns set up to call for urgent action are gathering momentum. The group Don’t Pay says that more than 92,000 people have now pledged to stop paying their energy bills from October 1st.
The campaign says it is demanding a reduction in energy bills to an affordable level and that if they can reach one million pledges the movement will cancel their direct debits en masse this autumn.
However some charities have warned against such a move saying that there can be serious consequences for not paying utility bills including payment metres being installed in a property.
The Enough is Enough campaign was launched this week by unions and some community organisations to demand better pay, a reduction in energy bills, an end to food poverty, decent homes for all and higher taxes for the most wealthy.
The group says they will hold rallies across Britain, form community groups, organise picket line solidarity and take action against companies and individuals profiting from the crisis. They say more than 75,000 people signed up to the campaign on its first day.
Samantha* a single mother from Northampton says she was already struggling to get by before the cost of living crisis hit and is now finding it more difficult than ever to make ends meet.
She is signed off from work due to having fibromyalgia spinal stenosis and spondylosis which causes nerve compression and widespread body pain. She relies on Universal Credit and PIP (Personal Independence Payments) to support her family and says that she hasn’t eaten properly for two weeks due to not being able to afford food.
“I had to go to the foodbank yesterday and they gave me a voucher for food. My gas has run out and I don’t get paid until the 18th so I will have to boil kettles for strip washes as I won’t have hot water.
“I feel so defeated. I had to ask my 21 year-old daughter to lend me some money just so I could buy my two young daughters some lunch. I honestly have no idea how I will manage going forward, it doesn’t help that I’m not able to work.”
Martin Lord, a board member at the Wellingborough housing association Greatwell Homes, says that housing associations must ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with their customers who are facing increasing financial pressure and debt.
“At Greatwell Homes, we are increasing the capacity and reach of our in-house advice service, but where in-house expertise is not available, housing associations should look to maximise their partnerships with the not-for-profit advice sector and, where necessary, consider funding referral arrangements,” he says.
“...As part of our new corporate plan ‘Live Greatwell’, we are creating a new customer assistance pot of money to provide bespoke financial support to customers. We are also planning to re-use freed-up space in our offices to store good quality furniture gifted by third parties or removed from empty properties to help customers. And like all housing associations, we will be monitoring the impact on rent arrears carefully.”
Yesterday Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said there would be no immediate measures to tackle the crisis, saying:
“...At the start of the summer, we introduced a number of measures to help the public. Clearly some of the global pressures have increased since that was announced.
“By convention it is not for this prime minister to make major fiscal interventions during this period. It will be for a future prime minister.”
*Name has been changed
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