Cost of living crisis: 'I can't afford to eat sometimes'

Cath Williams, a resident in Newport, has said she is feeling the effects from the cost of living crisis Credit: Media Wales

As the cost of living continues to rise, many people and families on the front line are feeling the impacts from rising food, fuel and energy prices.

Joanne Lao from Newport told her nine-year-old son she has to stop buying his favourite cherry bakewells treats.

She said, "The ones we usually have from Asda are like 95p - we went in this week and they were £1.90 for the same box.

"We've had to stop buying them now - it's just too much money."

Experts are warning that the average UK energy bill could hit £3,000 or £4,000 in October. Credit: Media Wales

It's intended as a joke, but for a single mum like Joanne, who works full time, it's a symptom of the serious worry that is facing thousands of households across Wales amid ballooning cost of living increases.

Recent months have seen surging food and fuel costs. Gas and electricity bills are set to increase by £693 - around 54 per cent - in April, with further increases possible in October.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures including a cut to fuel prices, changes to National Insurance thresholds and a promise on income tax.

While some have cautiously welcomed Rishi Sunak's measures, others have said most people will still pay higher taxes and that the poorest will see little benefit. 

The Chancellor has said he is doing all he can to mitigate the very worst impacts of the rising cost of living.

Benefit rates are due to rise by around 3 per cent from April, but with some experts warning that inflation could hit 8 per cent this spring, many are facing a real-terms loss in income and a growing financial burden.

Single mum Joanne, 38, from Duffryn in Newport, is one of many with a university degree, a reasonably well-paid job and her own home who are nevertheless worried about creeping costs.

"I own my home but they own the heating, so I can't flex to a different provider," she explained. "We're on a fixed rate, we can't move to a better rate. I think in today's climate there probably isn't a better one anyway.

The Welsh Government has produced a cost of living package that provides support to households in the current financial year and next year. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

"My electric has gone up probably about £40 a month, incrementally. I've noticed every couple of months I get a new letter saying my direct debit has increased. Food costs as well - my average food has gone from about £70 a week to about £120, and there's only three of us in the house.

"Because I'm a single parent that works, I'm over the threshold for any help so I've still got to pay for my children's school meals and things like that. But obviously I'm still on one wage and I've got to pay my mortgage and everything. I feel I'm in a bit of a bad place with that.

"I think I'm kind of in the worst position. Sometimes I think I'd probably be better off not working at all, because I'd probably get help. It's difficult."

Joanne said she is just about affording her bills at the moment but has little leftover cash for unforeseen events.

"Somebody smashed into my car a couple of weeks ago and drove off," she said, pointing across the driveway to her badly damaged bumper. "That's something I'm going to have to fork out for now. There's just no leftover money every month to pay for the unexpected. That's something I used to have.

"My tumble dryer broke this week, I'm not buying one so I'm going on YouTube to find out how to fix it. My children do after-school activities - dancing, athletics - which are quite expensive, so I'm starting to think I'll have to start cutting out those, which is a shame. They don't have much else to do, [and] I don't want them hanging around the streets."

Joanne said she fears how she will cope with any further cost increases.

"I am worried about it. I've got nobody else to rely on for income - it's literally all on me. It makes me extra stressed in work, because if anything happens to my job, there's no backup.

"I have a good job, work full time, I went to university and got a masters. But it feels like it's still not enough. If I'm on a fair wage, over £30-40,000 a year, and I'm struggling to look after two children, I dread to think how people with a lower income can do that.

"I'm not sure what can be done. Some sort of cap, maybe. It feels like it's spiralling out of control, everything. How supermarkets can get away with increasing everything so significantly, is unbelievable really."

62-year-old Keith Bennett lives in Sandpiper Way in Duffryn with his partner. He said his costs have spiralled in recent months and are set to go up even more in April.

Keith Bennett, 62, said his costs have spiralled in recent months. Credit: Media wales

"I was paying £17 a week for electric - that's gone up to £27," he said. "It was £940 a year and they've estimated it will be £1,358 in April. My gas has gone up from £152 to £201. Then you've water on top of that.

"My benefits won't cover it. I've just got to try and work it out. My houses aren't warm anyway, they lose the heat very quickly. They were built in 1978. My thermometer is about 13 degrees in the winter - it's like a freeze box.

"There's the council tax rebate but you've got to go online and fill in [answer] questions. One of my friends stated he was on one benefit, and he couldn't get it."

Keith said he has had to drastically cut his spending in recent months and has to get help from his son and daughter at times when he's really stuck.

"It's frightening - I can't afford to eat sometimes. My children put £20 onto my heating and say 'there you go, have a bit more heat'. Or they'll come around and cook me dinner and say things like 'we'll get the meat dad, you just get the vegetables'. That's what it's like.

"My family helps me a lot. My daughter is a nurse and she's struggling. Her husband is too, and they've got their own house and do as much overtime as they can."

"If you sit down with a box of chocolates or a packet of crisps, it's a luxury in a way. You just can't do it now. If it goes up in October, you're talking about millions in poverty. Where's it going to end? What are people going to do - heat their homes? Or starve?

"Crime is going to go up. It's going to be atrocious for people. It's people with young children. It's going to be nice and warm in the summer, but in winter when you've got kids and you can't put the heating on. My son is afraid to put the heating on, and he's working hard."

Keith said this week's announcement by the chancellor would make little difference to older people and those struggling with their energy bills.

"It's not going to make no difference for the pensioners. Sure you can put the threshold up, but the income tax changes aren't until 2024. It might help the richer but on the lower end of the scale it won't help."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced measures in his Spring Statement including a raising of the National Insurance threshold Credit: PA Images

Cath Williams, 55, works in Asda but only does 20 hours per week due to health issues, meaning she has been struggling with finances recently.

"I can't work many hours because of my health. It is a struggle," she said. "It's been ongoing for a while. The heating is terrible - I put the heating on at 3 o'clock in the morning for three or four hours. That's all I can afford. Before I used to put it on in the morning for two or three hours if it was cold, and then in the evening.

"The electric has doubled. The heating, we had new systems one or two years ago. That made it soar. Before that, it was in with the rent. It's all separate now.

"Shopping's got to suffer. The prices in Asda have gone up, and it's not by 10 or 20p, you know - it's 70 or 80p. I buy unbranded things just to keep going. I've got two boys, they're grown up but they eat like horses.

"I haven't got savings, I can't save. Everything goes on the house. If you want to do DIY, you've got to save for a month just to get a tin of paint. It's not always been like that. I am coping, but it's a struggle."

Cath said she felt more help needed to be available.

"We need more help. We had the winter payment for the payment, but we put that in and it's gone already. Poll [council] tax, water, rent - it's all going up.

"I am on universal credit, but if I do any overtime they just take it off me. So I either work all the hours and get none, or the other way around.

"They're supposed to be giving us money for council tax, but then they're putting it up. The amount they're giving us isn't enough to go through the year.

"I am worried. I've got a smart meter, and it's in my face all the time. I feel like hiding it. If I put on the kettle, I only put one cup of water in. I won't be able to retire until I'm 70."

73-year-old ex-railway worker Dave Clark says he is very worried he is about the increases.

Dave Clark, 73, is an ex-railway worker. Credit: Media Wales

"I've just paid £290 for three months' electric, for the same amount that cost me £230 before," he said. "They're saying it's going up again in a week's time to about £400 a year.

"Does it worry me? It does and it doesn't - if you haven't got it you can't pay them. When you get older, it's not nice to go into the debt. They could help with the VAT or something, I think.

"I'm on my own and I've noticed costs going up, and that's not by a penny or two like it always does. A packet of frozen chips is going up by 30 or 40p. It's terrible."

Dave said he "lives day-to-day" and that although he has a "couple of grand in the bank" he recently had to dip into his savings to repair his bathroom. He is worried about having to do so again if his costs keep going up.

"There's no point in having money in the bank if you can't have a shower," he said. "As you get older, you learn to start again. I shouldn't have to be worrying about that. If I should pass away tomorrow, it's the poor old kids stuck with the bills.

"I'm better off than a lot of people. I've got my pension, it's not as if I've got to get up and [work] nine to five. It must be terrible if you can't buy the kids a packet of sweets.

"I don't know what the government can do. They're bailing people out left, right and centre. I don't know what to tell you. I'd be prime minister if I knew that. They should knock a bit of VAT off.

"Something's got to give somewhere. There's going to be crime everywhere. I think when petrol goes up, everything goes up. It's the lorries bringing the food in, the buses, the taxis. They can't run into loss.

"I gave my car away, I don't drive no more. But I think the fuel has a lot to do with it. It's hard for these companies to let go of the profit they're making. I can sit in my dressing gown, go to bed early. We shouldn't have to go back to the Middle Ages."

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