What's the real-life impact of the cost of living and energy crises?

People are really bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. On top of that, we’re also facing an energy crisis as energy prices continue to rise rapidly, threatening even more people ahead of winter. We share stories from those who've been hit disproportionately hard by rising bills, and outline the solutions we're campaigning for.
  Published:  17 Aug 2022    |      4 minute read

“It’s just heart-breaking,” says Yvonne, whose team communicates with Friends of the Earth’s supporters. “People, especially older people, are contacting us in masses because the cost of living crisis is hitting them in horrific ways”.

It’s not surprising that they are getting in touch. People all over the UK are being plunged into fuel poverty due to skyrocketing energy bills. There are different definitions of fuel poverty, but it essentially means not being able to afford to heat your home to the level needed to keep healthy. It’s been estimated that by the end of 2022, a shocking two thirds of UK households might experience fuel poverty.

Who is being most impacted by the cost of living and energy crises?

Being able to stay warm in our homes shouldn’t be a privilege. Yet, that’s the direction we’re headed.

The cost of living crisis is disproportionately impacting the poorest households and those already struggling to make ends meet. Among those worst affected, disabled people are more than twice as likely to live in a cold home, while 43% of disabled people have said they need to use more energy that others to meet their needs. On top of this, disabled adults have seen the biggest increase in household costs for their energy bills, food, and fuel costs putting them and their families under severe financial pressure.

Last winter, Friends of the Earth supporter Gill* and her partner, who are both disabled and retired, discovered their disabled daughter “was living without the heating on, wrapped in clothes and blankets so she could afford food, despite her fiancé working long hours.”

To remedy the situation, Gill and her partner, who receive a pension, set up a direct debit to help ease their daughter’s financial burden. This has led to the couple being unable to afford help with things they can no longer manage for themselves, which has impacted their mental health. Gill questioned “what are people supposed to do who don't have family able to help?”

It's a story that’s becoming all too common. Another disabled supporter, Jade from Kent, contacted us to tell us there’s “no way” she can afford her latest energy bill due to the massive price increase. She explained that “this winter, [she] simply can’t afford to warm [her] home”.

*name has been changed to protect identity.

How is the UK government responding to the cost of living and energy crises?

The energy crisis is expected to get worse, with energy bills set to rise further over the winter. The rise in bills is going to affect all of us to different degrees. People from all walks of life – those in and out of work, single parents, disabled people, small business owners, older people, students – will need to make difficult decisions on increasingly tight finances. 

It’s clear urgent intervention is needed. Gill* feels the government has a responsibility to act and sort this crisis out. But what exactly is the UK government doing about it?

From one-off payments to help with energy bills that barely touch the sides and don’t account for future price rises to talk of tax cuts which will benefit wealthy households the most, one thing is clear – the response from government is inadequate, short sighted and frankly dangerous.

Could the cost of living and energy crises have been prevented?

We're in a global crisis. But the UK has two main issues that make us feel the bite more. 

Our cold and leaky homes, some of the worst and costliest in Europe, mean that we waste a lot of the energy we use. This means too much of our warmth seeps out through our walls, windows and roofs, so we end up spending more money than we need to.

We urgently need to upgrade the nation’s homes with insulation and other energy saving measures. This is the cheapest and quickest way to bring down people’s bills permanently. 

What’s more, our overreliance on burning fossil fuels to heat our homes has left us vulnerable to the volatile global gas market, with over 80% of UK homes relying on gas for heating and cooking.

Investment in home-grown renewable energy sources like wind farms and solar energy, and helping people change their gas boilers for electric heating options could help make the UK more self-sufficient and start to eased some of the financial impact we're experiencing. Wind and solar are abundant in the UK, as well as being cheap and quick to build. They could provide a really effective solution to reducing bills for the future.

So what are the solutions?

We’re calling on government to urgently help people insulate their homes. We have the data which identifies the homes that are most vulnerable to the cold weather and who are most at risk from the cost of living and energy crises.

In England, we’re calling for a programme of free insulation and basic energy saving measures for all homes, delivered street-by-street starting in neighbourhoods that need it most. This will lower bills quickly and make our homes warmer and healthier. We need to make sure this happens to bring down people’s bills now as well as future-proof our homes and protect us in the long run.

But we understand even this won’t be enough for people who are struggling with the immediate cost of living. There's a definite need for more emergency financial support so people can afford to stay warm this winter.

At Friends of the Earth, we're uniquely placed to hold government accountable for its inaction because we’ve always campaigned for transformative change.

Earlier this year, we challenged the government's Heat and Buildings Strategy for its failure to consider the Strategy’s impact on groups such as disabled people, older people and people of colour. As a result, the government is now going back and doing this assessment so that the Strategy is in line with the Equality Act. 

We'll continue to hold government to account and campaign for people and planet.

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