‘I’m not getting through the month’: five Britons on the cost of living crisis

·6-min read

‘We use hot-water bottles in the evening’

Most of primary school teacher Kate Locke’s salary goes on her rent – and in the last month, that’s gone up by 10%. Combined with the rising costs of food and energy, Locke, 39, is increasingly worried about money. “By end of month I’m in my overdraft, I haven’t been able to save anything – there’s no stability,” Locke, who lives in Reading, says.

“Food costs have gone up over the last six months – but it’s in the last two months that I’ve been really worried about if I can afford things. Before this I never had much money but now I’m not getting through the month.”

Locke, who is a single parent with a teenage son, says her energy bills have risen steeply. “Since Christmas, my bills have gone up by £47 to around £110,” she says. “We use hot-water bottles in the evening to avoid putting on the heating. My son was off school with Covid recently and there was a real rise in bills – we shouldn’t have to worry about getting our children warm.”

She used to shop at Sainsbury’s, but lives by a Waitrose and would “nip across the road” for the odd item. “That’s not an option any more,” Locke says. She’s switched to Lidl. “Now I’m really thoughtful about what I spend my money on. I’m really feeling the pinch more than ever before.”

‘This year I don’t intend to buy anything I strictly don’t need’

Julie, a retired teacher and novelist in Arbroath, is “scrutinising” her bills as she’s noticed a steep rise in costs. Her food shop has risen by a third compared with six months ago, and her energy bills have doubled in the same period. “I fully expect that any pension increase won’t cover price rises – and it’s time to start cutting back,” she says.

Julie, who gets a fortnightly shop delivered from Asda, has noticed price increases in items like cheese and coffee: “Good quality instant coffee has doubled, and is no longer on special offer.” She’s also noticed a large increase in the price of dried goods, such as crackers: they used to be 50p and are now 90p. “Items that were price-matching with Lidl have gone way up at Asda,” she says. The 63-year-old doesn’t buy meat or fish from the supermarket – “you’re not going to get better local produce than here” – and notes that local businesses have not raised their prices.

While ordinarily Julie would have bought new clothes in the January sales, this year is different. “This year I don’t intend to buy anything I strictly don’t need,” she says. “I’m not going clothes shopping, and I’m buying books on Kindle rather than physical books.” She adds: “There are some things I’m saying: ‘you don’t need that, don’t even think about it.’ I’m scrutinising the twice-a-month supermarket shopping to look for savings where possible.”

‘Rising petrol prices are very noticeable in the Highlands’

To Gavin Waugh, a 46-year-old store manager in Fort William, rising petrol prices have been particularly alarming. “It’s very noticeable in the Highlands: our pricing in Fort William is more than other places,” he says. “What’s frustrating is you can go to Inverness, 66 miles away, and the prices are much cheaper, up to 8p cheaper per litre. It just feels like because we are a very touristy destination area, the locals are penalised by that.”

Waugh lives close to his workplace so isn’t spending too much on commuting, but says some of his employees who live 20 miles away have been seriously affected. “Right now, it’s £1.49 [a litre] in Morrisons, which is the cheapest. I’ve been away a week and it’s just gone up a penny. A year ago [it was] at £1.30, if not £1.20 – quite a significant jump.”

‘Changing prices mean I can’t plan and save’

Gareth Evans, 54, in Cornwall, has seen the cost of his weekly shop jump in the last year. “I’m not buying anything outrageous, just cheap stuff like pizza and chips,” he says, yet his weekly spend has gone from about £15-£20 to up to £25. “I struggle to digest bread so I have to get the good stuff – that’s gone up from £0.99 to £1.35 since Christmas 2020. I presume the rise is due to import duty after Brexit.”

Evans, who shops in a number of supermarkets including Asda and Co-op, says he’s also noticed that supermarkets’ ranges have shrunk. “The variety has disappeared – you walk down Asda and think they’ve just got rows and rows of green beans and no peas. When they’re short of something the price tends to go up even higher – so I’m learning to like green beans.”

Evans, who receives employment support allowance, says the changing prices make it difficult to plan or save. “The smaller your income, the greater those percentage changes are,” he says, giving the example of tinned tomatoes rising from 22p to 30p. “You can go in next week and it’ll be a different price. It’s the yo-yoing of it all – it used to be that you could plan the week; I used to be able to go into the shop and know how much it would cost. I can’t plan anything, which means I can’t save up.”

‘Prices for materials are through the roof’

Ian Huckle, a 56-year-old cabinetmaker and carpenter in London, has noticed a significant increase in the price of materials. He recently found invoices for sheets of MDF from early 2019, which had been £28 a sheet at the time. They’re now £55. “The main reason is the shipping crisis – for things that shipped from China and Taiwan, the prices are through the roof,” he says. “All costs of building materials are up faster than inflation, and then there’s the slower incremental rise of things like insurance costs.”

He worries that rising costs are putting off clients. “It’s getting to the point where I’m losing jobs because clients don’t want to spend that much,” he says, giving the example of some cabinets and bookcases that worked out at £2,300 when two years ago, they would have cost about £1,800. “I’ve priced my labour at the same rate as then, which means I’m effectively earning less after inflation. I’m generally busy with a good client base but I can feel I’m getting towards the limit of what people are willing to pay.”