UK and Ireland correspondent
UK and Ireland correspondent
The energy bill triples, and inflation also makes groceries and other bills more expensive. This combination threatens to push another three million Britons into poverty next winter. The United Kingdom has the highest inflation of the major Western economies.
This is already visible at the charity and food bank Disc in Newquay. “Most of the people who walk in here now have jobs,” says Disc’s Monique Collins. “Teachers, cleaners, factory workers, cooks, construction workers. People who used to be able to get by but now need a food bank.”
Audrey Cavanaugh has packed three bags with her son. “The stress of the rent and the bills,” she says with short, soft answers. It destroyed her marriage. For her, the food bank is a lifesaver until things get better.
“It’s hard with two kids,” says Audrey. “The panic over all the costs, such as paying the rent, took a toll on our family.”
Her husband worked as a teacher and she as a cook in a school kitchen. Due to the stress and hopelessness of her situation, Audrey is currently unable to work. She worries about the gas and electric bills. “Fortunately, the children are going back to school soon, so we use less energy at home.”
“Come here,” Monique Collins from Disc beckons Audrey’s youngest son. “I have something for you.” She takes two shoe boxes with new Nikes in them for him and his older brother. Collins’ charity also relies on donations itself. “I am very concerned about that. We are trying to prepare and recruit as much as possible for the coming months. But otherwise, we just hope that people will continue to donate.”
Two million people in the food bank
In the past year, more than two million people in the UK depended on the food bank. This figure is expected to rise sharply in the coming months as energy bills for many households triple or even quadruple in October, says Carys Roberts, director of think tank IPPR.
“We are seeing the highest inflation in 40 years, but wages have barely increased. Public assistance and support is not even close to the huge costs that people are facing. As a result, many people will need help from food banks.”
“Poverty on this scale has everything to do with the choices the UK government has made over the last 12 years,” Roberts said. After the financial crisis in 2008, the Conservative government decided to cut the welfare and aid sectors. Instead of helping low wages they are cutting £14 billion.
“The consequences are huge. That so many households were dependent on the food bank last year means that the total food parcels that were just enough to live on. If people are just getting by, they can’t set aside savings to absorb these prices. .”
10 pounds a week
Many retirees also visit the food bank, such as 75-year-old Barbara Pearson, who fills plastic containers with salad in an apron. She helps as a volunteer and prepares meals that are delivered to people who cannot come themselves.
Barbara invariably showers with cold water and gets almost all of her food from Disc. “If I’m spending £10 a week on food, that’s a lot.”
The pension she gets monthly from the government is around £280. Half of that already goes to the £140 energy bill. “If this amount increases even more, I will have to turn off the heat this winter.”
She is not alone. The choice between warm up and eat is becoming a reality for a growing group of Britons now that energy bills rise from 1 October. Pensioners will spend an average of 40 percent of their income on energy bills, according to calculations by the IPPR think tank.
UK purchasing power levels have not been this low for sixty years and this has an effect on the whole economy. “On the one hand, you have inflation, price increases and energy bills, which are a big problem for households, but there is also the effect on the national economy,” says IPPR director Roberts. “Because if households stop spending money because everything is spent on bills and energy costs, they don’t spend that money in shops, restaurants and the like. As a result, jobs are lost.”
“One in five small businesses already fear bankruptcy,” Roberts continues. “The government is facing difficult decisions. But the first question we have to deal with now is how to guide households through the winter.”