One hazard of writing about the cost-of-living crisis is the speed at which information becomes dated. This week, Liz Truss won the leadership race and will be pressed to reassure two thirds of UK households estimated to be in fuel poverty by January and organisations whose survival hinges on support with astronomical energy price increases. Even the head of the CBI highlighted the need to “say something to the country to reassure people about what will happen”.
Financial anxiety is impacting the nation’s mental health. Never has there been a better time for big, bold action that would simultaneously safeguard wellbeing and respond to the climate crisis. The internet is awash with useful energy saving tips and information about financial support, but without additional measures, many simply cannot afford the price rises.
This includes half of the UK’s disabled people who are already in debt, one third of whom are skipping meals. Inability to afford energy will create additional strain on the NHS. Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association for Northern Ireland, said: “Our view is that this winter will be the worst we’ve ever seen. Worse than the pandemic.”
Food aid organisations, already depleted from pandemic support, are overstretched, while donations are down for four in five, with many forced to scale back their support.
Says one Devon coordinator: “It’s unsustainable. I would go on strike if I thought it would get my clients the financial support they need, but stopping for one day would leave four hungry families unfed.”
So-called ‘warm banks’ – public buildings provided for people to sit in who cannot afford to put the heating on – are the latest proposition. One working, single parent, asked if she would use one said: “Imagine, I’ve been on my feet all day, I need to make dinner, sort washing, school uniforms and lunchboxes, make phone calls, then relax. The last thing I would want is to drag myself and my tired children, to a public place and still be faced with a cold, mouldy house and chores when I got home.”
Rapid, scalable finance-based solutions as already delivered by overseas aid charities will more effectively keep people warm. Warm banks should not be hardwired into the state response to poverty, and now is definitely not the time to further burden a burnt-out voluntary sector or local councils.
By contrast, things like funding energy bill help by taxation of energy extractors and shareholder dividend suspensions for the duration of the crisis have widespread public support, as does longer-term investment in domestic renewable energy generation and insulation for the UK’s housing stock.
I hope that this piece will go out of date, because a comprehensive package will have been announced by the new Prime Minister.