'Our life has become one of survival': The cost of living in 2022
Pensioner Shiela Correll has to layer up and wrap herself in blankets to stop the cold getting from her bones.
Single mum Emma Jones says she can barely sleep knowing her energy bills are £900 more than last year.
Meanwhile, mum-of-three Efi Nydrioti admits she’s stopped letting her kids go to any friends’ parties as she simply can no longer afford to even buy a token present for them to take.
With Britain experiencing one of the worst years for living since records began in 1956, millions of people across the UK are now facing poverty as the rate of inflation soars and the cost of living becomes a heavier burden to carry.
Life may be costing more but wages aren’t keeping up with the rising prices, leaving many to worry about how they are going to afford the basics – rent, food, gas, electricity, fuel, and clothing.
And it’s all about to get worse.
From April, energy bills will surge as the wholesale cost of gas continues to rise and the price cap is lifted. Taxes are going to go up by 1.25 percentage points. Council tax bills are due to increase, along with mortgage costs, phone bills, and broadband contracts. And as inflation rises again, so will the price of food.
‘Right now, people across the country are facing the biggest income squeeze in a generation,’ Emma Revie, Chief Executive Officer at The Trussell Trust, explains. ‘For people on the lowest incomes, this means being pushed deeper into poverty and being forced into making impossible decisions like whether to switch on the heating or put food on the table.’
Amid desperate times, many hoped our government would come to the rescue and awaited Rishi Sunak’s spring statement for support. Unfortunately, very little help was announced except for a 5p cut in petrol duty and a little lift to the National Insurance threshold. Instead, it’s predicted his mini-Budget could push 1.3m people into poverty this year, including half a million children.
‘The decision not to target support at those hardest hit by rising prices will leave low- and-middle income households painfully exposed,’ said Torsten Bell of The Resolution Foundation, in response to the budget.
Revie describes countless families who access Trussell Trust food banks who aren’t able to get children to school because of fuel prices at the pump, have mould growing in the house because they can’t afford heating, and are turning off their refrigerators to conserve energy.
‘People on the lowest incomes cannot simply bounce back from this,’ she adds.
As this crisis of survival continues, Emma, Sheila and Efi reveals the toll it has taken on them.
‘The thought of not being able to provide for my own children makes me sick to my stomach’
Emma Jones, 42, is a single parent to three children aged two, 12, and 15.
‘Life took a turn for the worse in 2019 when I was made redundant from my job as regional manager supporting preschool settings. I’ve worked since I was 13 and never struggled to provide for myself and my children, even as a single parent.
Then all of the sudden, I became dependent on Universal Credits to afford life. Sitting down at the computer to fill out the forms made me feel so ashamed – like I was no longer able to give my kids what they needed with my own two hands.
Since our UC payments were significantly lower than my previous wage, I started to cut down on what I could afford. I stopped buying anything for myself – haircuts, nail appointments, contact lenses, clothes. It all had to go, which as a single mum who never gets a break, was a sacrifice I found unusually difficult to come to grips with.
After losing my job, I lost all my confidence, and not being able to take care of my body and my appearance has compounded my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity as a woman and mother.
Last Christmas, I sat down to do my monthly budgeting and couldn’t figure out how I would be able to afford present for my kids. I decided the first thing I could get rid of was my home and life insurance, which was costing £60 per month.
Those two things were my only reassurances that if something happened to me, my children would be taken care of. But right now, I have to live in the present instead of the future. I also started selling items in the house on Facebook Marketplace to get a few extra pennies for presents. It all counts when money is tight.
With three kids, two who are teenagers, I’m constantly bombarded with requests for food. It feels like they eat all the time. But giving them healthy foods is becoming more expensive.
I spend around £480 pounds per month on food and household items, most of which goes to fruit and vegetables. For my big shops, I have to drive 45 minutes to get all that I need from either Asda or Lidl. I walk over in the evenings to my local corner shop and buy special items that are reduced at the end of the day – like meat and fruit. I feel overwhelmed trying to make sure they’re fed well, but I’m their mother – I don’t have a choice.
There is a local food bank here with dried goods, but I’m too embarrassed to go there, for people to know I’m struggling. Once or twice, I’ve driven to a food bank further away, but I can’t do it often because the price of diesel to get there is so astronomical.
Because we live to far away from everything – appointments and shops – I try as much as possible to combine all of my car journeys, so I use as little diesel as possible.
The summer is nearing, which gives me a bit of relief seeing as our gas and electric bills are about to go up again. A few weeks ago, I saw an email from my energy provider letting me know the expected amount I will be paying for the year. I didn’t open it for days because I was so afraid of what I would read.
When I eventually did sit down to look at the email, my stomach dropped when I read I would be paying £3,500 a year. It’s £900 more than we paid last year. I am just coming to terms with the fact that I’m going to be going into debt soon. There is no way around it.
Even though I would love to get back into work, childcare costs are too expensive. It would be about £900 per month for me to send my youngest to nursery. How am I supposed to pay that?
I’m so exhausted and feel like I’m at my breaking point, often unable to sleep at night.
The thought of not being able to provide for my own children makes me sick to my stomach. I should be able to afford to buy them a Flake to go in their icrecream and to take them on a little outings. But I can’t. I can’t pay for holidays, after-school clubs, or days out. The kids constantly hear me say ‘no’ to anything that costs money. I just want a break from thinking about money. I just want to do more than survive.’
Emma is supported by Home-Start Cymru
‘I can’t even afford to go out for a coffee, I feel very isolated and lonely’
Sheila Correll, 79, is a retired legal secretary and lives in Horncastle, Lincolnshire
‘I used to be a marathon runner, so every morning at 7am, my dog and I go for an hour-long run just to warm up. With the rising cost to heat my house, I simply can’t afford to turn the heat on anymore. Not once have I put it on this year.
After the run, I come home to have my breakfast and potter around the house, before going out on another run later in the day to keep me warm through the evening. On really cold nights, when I can’t stand the cold, I use a tiny wood-burning stove to heat the house. But most of the time, I just wrap up in several layers and blankets to keep the cold from getting to my bones.
With my basic state pension and pension credit, which totals £185 per week, I have had to be really careful with money. Although I own my house, my small income has to pay for gas, electricity, food for myself, food for my dog and parrot, water, council tax, broadband, and my house phone. Over the last few months, there hasn’t been much at all left at the end of each week.
Good food is really important for the elderly and has always been a priority for me. If you don’t eat well, you’ll get sick. And you don’t want to get sick as an older person. I used to enjoy wandering around the market to buy beef, lamb, and fish. But I don’t do that anymore. I sometimes buy mince meat and make it stretch over a few days, but other than that, I don’t have any treats.
Living on my own, I depend on social outings to see people and rely on AgeUK for support. Recently, I’ve not even been able to afford a cup of coffee in town. It makes me feel so isolated and often, very lonely.
I had heard on the news that my gas and electric were going to go up. I looked up what I could be paying for the rest of the year and was absolutely shocked when I read I could be shelling out up to £311 per month. Right now, I’m only paying £48. If I’m already cutting back on everything, literally everything – what will I do when I have to pay that much extra? I know I would choose to eat well rather than be warm, so I suppose I’ll just carry on being very cold so I can continue buying nutritional foods.
The thing is, there isn’t anything I can do about it. My state pension isn’t due to rise as the cost of living increases. It’s awful that the elderly are treated like this. It isn’t just me. Friends have said that they go to sleep early or keep their oven open in the evenings so they don’t get cold. The fact that we are living check to check, hoping we have enough food and heat to survive on, is just a disgrace.’
‘I sometimes just stand at the sink, imagining the worst-case scenario if this all continues’
Efi Nydrioti, 38, has three children aged 4, 5 and 7. She lives with her husband in Cardiff.
‘When my husband and I settled down in Cardiff four years ago, we expected to be able to easily raise our growing family, but life seemed to get really hard, really fast. Right after we moved into our rented, three-bedroom house, I had a third baby.
I felt so isolated from the rest of the world and far away from my family and friends in Greece, where I had moved to the UK from. Being a mum to young children is all-consuming and without help or support, I felt myself sinking into a depression.
Money was a worry too. The deposit on the house and monthly rent meant that we had to learn to be careful with money, but eventually, with my husband’s income from working at Scottish Power, we got into a rhythm. Money and life felt bearable. We were lucky.
But for the last few months, my mind has been overrun with anxiety thinking about the rising prices of everything.
Every day, I do small shops to my local Tesco, noting how the items we usually buy – eggs, cheese, ham, bread, milk – are all going up each time I shop. Five pence here, 10 pence there. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it all adds up quickly. Not long ago, I was browsing the aisles in Tesco, aware of what I already had in my trolley, and chose the rice that cost 75 pence instead of the one for 80 pence. I’m sticking to the bare minimum when it comes to shopping. I absolutely never get frilly foods, just the basics.
I want to give my kids healthy food options with lots of fruit and vegetables but am finding it’s cheaper and easier to give them cheap snacks. For a bowl of fruit, I’ll pay 10 pounds. For a bag of crisps, I’ll spend two. I hate that I can’t give them what I know is best for them.
Like everyone, we know all about the rising cost of living due to hit in April. I am quite simply, petrified. We are already living so simply. For months, we haven’t gone to restaurants, had takeaways as a family, or gone out for drinks with friends. All of the ‘extras’ have been cut so we can afford our rent, food prices, uniforms, gas, electric, and a car. There just doesn’t seem like there is anything else to cut.
Instead of enjoying our days, we are worrying about how to afford them
And we haven’t even seen the energy price hikes that are being talked about. In preparation for that, I had to make difficult decision to cut out after-school activities for the kids. I was spending about £60 per month for them to go to do ballet, gymnastics, or taekwondo. That’s all stopped now. When I had to tell them, it really hurt, but I was honest and said we just couldn’t afford it anymore.
The other painful thing we had to cut was birthday parties. If you have kids, you’ll know there is an unsaid expectation you’ll bring a present to each party. It’s a heavy expense when you’re already tight with money.
Although my husband’s job is secure for the moment, the product he sells (gas and electric) is becoming harder to sell as prices soar. I hope, I pray he doesn’t get made redundant. If he does, I genuinely don’t know what we’ll do.
I still can’t work because my youngest isn’t in full-time school yet. Even once he is, they still have to be picked up and dropped off to school. It means I can’t get a job for years to come.
Our house never feels warm. I’ve made sure we keep the thermostat high enough to keep us from freezing, but never enough to feel warm. I show the kids money and tell them that each time we turn on the heat or flick on a light, the money goes. I want them to understand why we are being tight, but I also feel incredibly sad that they can’t have a care-free childhood like I had.
Their future most certainly isn’t going to look how it used to. I sometimes just stand at the sink washing dishes, imagining the worst-case scenario if this all continues.
At some point, I may have to choose between heating the house and feeding my family. Not yet, but it could become reality soon.
Our life has become one of survival. Instead of enjoying our days, we are worrying about how to afford them. To some extent, it’s all out of my control. We have cut back on all that we can. So now, we just have to wait and see what happens. We have to hope for the best.’
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