Jane* is a mother of three who works up to 30 hours a week as a cleaner. Her oven is off at the wall and for the past few months she has been using a slow cooker to cook dinner because she can no longer afford the gas bill. Every night she turns off the wifi and makes sure nothing is left on standby.
She lives in Burnley, Lancashire, which has the highest inflation rate in England at 11.5%, according to think tank Center for Cities. Its latest report found that residents of the Lancashire town have been hardest hit by the energy crisis due to high levels of poverty, low household energy efficiency and greater reliance on the use of electricity. private car. Energy costs represent around 6% of the average salary in Burnley, compared to 3% in London.
With energy and fuel prices expected to rise further when the new price cap is announced on Friday, people like Jane are growing increasingly anxious. How will they survive if the forecast is correct and the cap rises to £3,500 from October, when they are just scratching now?
“It’s just constant at the moment. I work really hard. I should be able to afford clothes and treats, like chocolate and chips,” says Jane. winter and I can’t even afford the curtain rods.”
Families rely on local services, charities and the generosity of others to help them afford even the essentials. However, Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar says there is little goodwill they can rely on as more people struggle to cope and services premises are requested.
In 2020, the council established a charity in partnership with other local organizations to support the community during the pandemic. People could call Burnley Together for help with setting up a debt repayment plan, getting emergency food parcels and advice on what benefits they were entitled to. It was supposed to be a short-term fix. Two years later, its services are expanding.
“What’s scary is that it’s not just those who you usually consider to be people who need this support. It is working families who are struggling to make ends meet and it will only get worse in the fall,” says Anwar. “It’s not just those who are most vulnerable, it’s going to hit everyone.”
Since 2010, council funding has fallen by 36%, or around £5m a year. “For a small board like ours, that’s huge,” says Anwar. “The government is always talking about upgrading, but we haven’t seen that. We backed off.
Katarina Coliona lives in a council house not far from the city center. She is disabled and during the winter her house becomes “absolutely freezing”. More than three-quarters of homes in Burnley have energy efficiency ratings below Energy Performance Certificate Band C, meaning the city has one of the most energy-efficient housing stocks in the country. Coliona has already had to cut back on her food intake and fears what will happen if she fails to keep up with her rising energy bills.
“Everything went up,” she says. “These are the things I need, like heating and gas. It’s putting gas to go see my family. It’s the grocery store. »
How did she cope? “My mental health has suffered. The simplest things you rely on to feel better you can’t afford. When asked how she would fare if the price cap was raised, Coliona stops before answering: “Why would I want to live in winter?”
A few steps from the town centre, the Saint-Matthieu church hosts a summer fair. The church has been turned into a bakery, café and toy store for the day, with many parents coming to pick up second-hand school uniforms.
“We distribute free uniforms. That’s good, but why?” asks Father Frost, the Vicar of St Matthew. “We’re supposed to be one of the richest countries and yet people are desperate.”
Jane returns home with a bag full of clothes. Her son now has something to wear when school starts again in September. But the charity will not be enough to offset Jane’s rising costs over the winter. As energy and fuel prices rise, many Burnley residents will be forced to make painful choices to support their families over the coming months.
* Jane is a pseudonym because she spoke anonymously