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Living on a low income

plaster over a crack in the pavement
Stuart, a debt free CAP client, shares his perspectives on the realities of the financial difficulties many across the UK are facing. 

So we’re in 2024 and what a turbulent first few months we’ve had. It seems we kicked off the year as if 2023 never left us… remember that feeling? 

Mr Sunak is Prime Minister, we’re battling through Brexit and the Ukraine and Russia war which has made food prices increase and for a time energy increase substantially as well. We are very much still in the grip of the cost of living, even with interest rates lowering. The impact is still being felt most harshly at the middle and lower end of the scale where those on low incomes or welfare, who are maybe single or in families with children or even elderly people, are choosing between heating and eating. 

But this is not new by any stretch of the imagination. Those in the lowest incomes, and those with health conditions or disabilities, have been at the brunt end of a very nasty stick since 2010, many experiencing restrictions or even total cut off from benefits leaving them starving and literally dying at home alone.

The personal aspect of the cost of living means even the essentials such as bread, sugar, milk, food, toiletries let alone clothes have become unaffordable. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has said that prices have risen by 40% alone over the last year, with energy companies combined making a profit of £1.74 billion.

It’s not just personal finance, but the local economies are also suffering detrimentally as people spend less money on entertainment, day trips, eating out or even buying a coffee in their local favourite coffee shop. It’s shocking to think that anyone in our society is having to consider either heating their home or eating some food, and unless the UK gets a grip on it, we may be facing the same reality over the next autumn and winter too.

But people are not only facing higher costs. Low paid workers – the cleaner, the people collecting your rubbish, or the factory work and the many other industries that rely on low skill’ low paid jobs, as well as those on benefits – also face constant threats and sanctions. There’s a fear you’ve filled a form in wrong and the reality is that this could mean that you’re suddenly faced with adverse effects and your whole world coming crashing down into a pile of rubble. 

Your first thought is, How am I going to live? How am I going to eat, have a bath or shower? How am I going to keep the lights, heating and some kind of entertainment?’ The choking effect it has on people is the same effect that the cost of living is doing to the citizens of the UK. It’s hard for people to feel happy in their environment without the right financial calmness. 

People are still choosing to end their lives because they cannot cope financially, physically or emotionally, and see it as the only way out. And it’s all linked, because with better finances comes better physical, emotional and mental health. People don’t suddenly become well’ (that’s not how depression works, but that is a topic for another blog) but with treatment and a better state of mind through financial security, those on benefits would benefit. A slow integration into the work environment may work if people’s financial situation is harmonious, as they are less worried about the cost of living.

In Charles Dickens’ time things were tough. People were living in damp, mould-infested homes with vermin and little to no money. But in 2024, some 200 years plus in the future, there are still people in the grip of poverty and trapped in bad living conditions. With the cost of living crisis, rising bills, rising rents and mortgages and uncertainty, people are having to live in a state of financial difficulty.

Beyond the financial difficulty, the stigma and negative rhetoric is also causing harm. There have been incidents where our politicians have made the situation worse by suggesting we the population eat turnips’, or criticised food bank users for not knowing how to cook’. At the same time, they live their lifestyle of subsidised food and drink.

It’s not helped by certain aspects of the media who seem to echo their demonising comments and attitudes rather than solve a problem. People in most need are being labelled because it’s far easier to do that than look at the real human element of people really struggling. Our politicians are saying, we care, and we are doing something about it’ while the cost of living is still raging on and gaining even more traction.

The cost of living payments helped millions of people on low-wage income who might be supplementing their wages with Universal Credit. But some people who would have benefited could not receive it, and when the cost of living payments were stopped, the sharp increase in bills and the slow gradual climb of wages and benefits meant that the costs of essentials are still far outstripping the income people have coming in.

Millions are still struggling and will continue to struggle. Energy bills will lower over the spring and summer but that is a naturally occurring thing, it’s not new. But as the spring and summer quickly pass we will still feel the food and fuel prices increase once more when the cold weather returns.

To get out of this time where income doesn’t cover the costs of essentials, we need to see increases in personal wealth. We need better wages and benefits increases across the board. Providing more certainty and stability in sectors such as food manufacturing, household goods and cleaning industries would also provide more certain futures.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'
Ruth, Co-Debt Centre Manager

We urgently need your support to reach every person in poverty.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'