“w“We want things to get better, we want some light,” says Alison Burns. Her family feels the financial pain caused by Covid and now the cost of living crisis. But as the government continues to throw everything at us, I can see no light at the end of the tunnel. How will any of this be improved? “
Money is tight, says Burns, who lives with her husband Stephen and two children, Louis and Alice, in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. “Like a lot of people, our finances haven’t recovered from Covid and all of these budgets have hurt in every way,” she says. “It is the people who work and are on the bread line who suffer the most.”
In a grim postmortem for the Chancellor’s fall statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government spending watchdog, warned that the biggest drop in living standards since records began looms, with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and stagnation. The think tank of the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded: “Almost all of us can expect to be worse off.”
For those already struggling to keep their heads above water in the cost of living crisis, it’s hard to imagine how things could get worse.
Stephen was laid off from a well-paying job at the start of the Covid pandemic, and although he’s back in business, as a self-employed sales consultant, his earnings have yet to recover. Alison works part-time for a school technology company but says her £300 childcare bill is eaten out of her paycheck. “If they want more people back to work, they need to help with childcare costs,” she says.
With a gross income of £26,500 the family is entitled to a monthly general credit payment of £395. They also received £650 towards the cost of living for the year. If their circumstances remain the same, they should get more help next year after the chancellor confirmed benefits tested mean up 10.1% to match inflation. They are also likely to be eligible for next year’s cost of living payment, which has been raised to £900.
But April seems to have gone a long way and there is still the worst winter to get through. The family has yet to turn on the heat and Alison admits it has been “a bit bland” in the house. They closely monitor the smart meter’s display, with long showers among the victims as they try to keep power bills under control.
But even without heating Stephen says his monthly energy bill went from £115 to £170. The government has made “a bad situation” worse over the past six months, he suggests: “The people you rely on to make things right have really messed up, and we’re the ones suffering from higher taxes and higher inflation.”
Meanwhile, the things a household needs to buy cost more, a fact confirmed by the latest official data which put the UK’s annual inflation rate at a 41-year high of 11.1%. Food inflation rose from 14.6% to 16.4% – the highest level since 1977, with significant increases in the cost of staples such as milk, butter, cheese, pasta and eggs.
Alison lists things that have gone up in price, from gasoline to get her kids to school (public transit isn’t an option), to insurance, groceries, and energy, all of which she leaves to scour the web, like parenting site Netmums, for money-saving strategies and advice.
Now, the 44-year-old now shops exclusively at German discount supermarket Lidl. She is not alone. This week, Lidl GB head Ryan McDonnell said the company was now serving 770,000 more customers a week than this time last year. When times were better, Alison was also shopping at Tesco but stopped visiting the supermarket about six months ago.
Food inflation means that even at Lidl prices are creeping up. “My food store with Lidl used to be around the £86 mark which I thought was good for a family store with fresh fruit and vegetables, but now it’s £120,” she says. “If you have to stock up on larger things like washing powder, the bill can hit the £200 mark. I stopped buying brands, like Ariel and Comfort, because they are so expensive.”
There is also a need to find extra money in the family budget for Christmas gifts and other extras as the holiday season approaches. “As far as it gets every month, I still have to factor Christmas into the equation, too,” says Allison.
It raises a lot of anxiety, said Jennifer Hawes, managing editor at Netmums. “Ordinary working families tell us they really worry about how to make ends meet. The budget goes some way to help the most vulnerable, but it doesn’t go far enough for the majority of working families. The burden of growing taxes and rising childcare costs make it financially prohibitive for some parents to work.”
The measures announced in the budget brought nothing new in the short term to the Burns family. “We’re not going to see any immediate relief,” Alison says. “We will all suffer until the spring, and money will be scarce for all of us.”