8:30 a.m. on October 31, 2022
For Carly Newman, every day feels like an impossible equation. Wearing a red dress and black heels, she leaves New Cross train station in south-east London on her way home from her weekly day at work. “It’s a good fifteen minute walk, she points out. This is the price you have to pay to get a lower rent. » She has to pick up her son, Ezra, 4, from her parents. For this single mother, the challenges of everyday life are compounded by Britain’s cost of living crisis. In September, inflation reached 10.1%, the highest level since 1982.
For food, prices have risen more, by almost 40% for certain basic products such as butter, milk or cereals. The cost of energy has also increased. The typical household bill has almost doubled from £1,277 to £2,500 over the past twelve months. ” My employer asks me to work in the office at least one day a week, says this 36-year-old Londoner, employed by a charity. Its premises are in the city, so there’s the train, £6.40, the lunch I have to buy myself, £10, and all the cafes tempting me with their £3 drinks. Those days are really expensive. »
“The price increase is very real”
Carly Newman walks through the door of the cottage where her parents live. Ezra is busy playing. “Look mom, it’s for our vacation!” », he blurts out, not a little proudly, and shows him a £1 coin. She is about to take him to Spain, their first vacation since the pandemic. “I lent a hand to an NGO on the sidelines of my work and they paid me in vouchers, says the young woman. This is what allowed me to finance the trip. » This kind of luxury would normally be unthinkable to her. And yet she earns £3,500 a month after tax, which is above the UK average*.
And specifies: “Once my fixed costs are deducted, I have just under £800 left. » Inflation gave it the death knell. “Every time I go to the supermarket I end up with a receipt for at least £30, she notes, although I only buy two or three trifles. » His gas and electricity bill has risen from an average of £50 to over £100. “That’s the amount I usually pay in the middle of winter, and I haven’t even turned on the heat yet. » She expects bills in excess of £150 when the temperatures drop.
His mother, Jane Collier, nods. “The price increase is very real, confirms this 63-year-old occupational therapist. A soup and a coffee now costs £8, compared to £5 a few months ago. » She retired in the spring, but continues to work two days a week to supplement her pension. To reduce her electricity and heating bills, she had solar panels installed on her roof. “This winter I also plan to use our old wood-burning stove”she slips.
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It’s time to bring Ezra home. Carly Newman lives in a one-room apartment of about fifty square meters in an HLM complex. She has already put thick curtains on the windows and front door to prevent heat loss. “This winter I only turn on the heat in one room at a time”, she says. She and Ezra prioritize showers and she only washes once a week.
But these efforts cost him. “What is the good of living if it is to shiver all winter in your own house? », she asks herself. Carly also goes to the supermarket less often. “I make every meal last longer, she says. I cook in large portions and I save the leftovers for the next day, or even the day after. » Meat and branded goods are no longer on his shopping list. She also gave up alcohol. As for unexpected expenses and major purchases, they are financed with his credit card. “I know I’m in debt, she confides but i have no choice. »
Using system D
In the UK, more and more residents are turning to System D to weather the storm. Food banks have seen the number of their beneficiaries explode. Indebtedness has reached an all-time high, with many households forced to turn to loans, some of which, even with a cap of 0.8% per day, can exceed 300% per annum. Some seniors have chosen to live with a roommate to absorb the cost of living crisis. A growing part of the population has simply stopped paying their energy bills and is joining the Don’t Pay movement, which has 210,000 supporters.
I know I’m in debt, but I have no choice
Behind her pleasant smile, Carly Newman is angry. “I have a college degree and I have a good job, and yet I struggle to get there, she gets carried away. I constantly have to make impossible choices. Take my son to the hairdresser or buy him clothes? This is not normal, the system is broken. » She particularly condemns the lack of support from the state. “I don’t feel listened to.” She claims to belong to the middle class and is part of a particularly affected cohort. “His generation is worse off than ours, Judge Jane Collier.We were able to buy our house in 1995 for £65,000 and it is worth ten times that today. We have also always been able to go on holiday. All of this is beyond Carly’s reach. »
So far, the UK government has done little to relieve households. He has introduced a limit on energy bills, which cannot exceed £2,500 a year, but this expires in April. Lost in the din of a country in crisis, Carly Newman’s voice won’t be heard anytime soon.
*According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), the median salary in the UK is £31,000 per year (around £2,600 per month), the average salary is £38,000 per year (about £3,200 per month).