One of our experts by lived experience tells us about his daily life as we head into winter with rising prices, and how the cut to Universal Credit is pushing him deeper into poverty.
I live on my own in a small two-bedroom council house on a large, mainly local authority owned estate. I moved to my present home 26 years ago, and the estate nearly 33 years ago. I was really lucky to get a house at all and if it hadn’t been for them knocking down the blocks of flats close by that I was living in at the time, I wouldn’t have got a house. I’d say I’m ingrained in the community immediately around me and well known in the wider community area.
The area, the community and the feeling of belonging means a lot to me in my life. Over the years I’ve dipped my toes in and out of activism on the estate, but through health issues forcing me into unemployment I have become much more involved and active once again, one of these areas being poverty.
Until I had the invitation, through my involvement in our community’s local conversation project (funded by the Health Lottery Trust), to join the JRF poverty action group, I had never really realised that I had either lived in poverty or close to it all my life bar a short period in my teens, when my parents entered the middle-class earning bracket. There is no doubt my learning differences (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia and Irlens syndrome) have contributed in some way; I’m presently waiting to find out if I suffer from undiagnosed ADHD. That, apparently has a major effective on your ability to manage money. I am fascinated in, how to me, it seems people living in poverty like myself internalise it, it becomes our norm and we just get on with trying to survive, because there is no alternative but to give up.
I’m sitting here in a t-shirt, hoody and two dressing gowns writing this. The alarm on my phone just went off to remind me it was time to switch off the heating from its second half-hour run of the day. In the past I used to dread the alarm going off for work, now my heart drops as I realise I’ve got about 15 mins of warmth left before I start to feel the chill again. It’s not like I’m extravagant with my heating. I set it at 16C or 18C when it’s really cold out, and I’m happy, but even that’s not affordable. I find myself following the weather forecast hoping for mild at least.
I am one of the millions to who the removal of the £20-a-week lifeline within Universal Credit (UC) has made a drastic difference. I already knew this winter was going to be hard after seeing a rise in my gas price due to my deal ending, but was then hit by another massive increase when that company recently failed.
Long story of how it came to be, but I have a key meter for my electric and an ordinary gas meter that I pay for monthly by Direct Debit. It has always worked well - electric a bit dearer but I didn’t use much - plus the addition of some government-funded solar panels, which I’ve been told will run my fridge and freezer for a day in the summer months, also helps. Until this May, I always managed to get a good gas deal, even if it was a pain shopping around (not the comparison sites but by going to each company site). The double hit with the company I switched being more expensive than last year's deal then going bust, and the increase again in price with the company I was transferred to, means I’m paying 80% more for my gas per unit and 52% more on the standing charge than this time last year. I have increased the amount I pay by about 33% but that still means I’ve got to cut my consumption by about 50%, then there's talk about another massive rise in April.
Since the reduction in UC I’ve just about survived but, and this is hard to admit, I wouldn’t have done without some generosity from friends. They gave me almost the equivalent of half of the money I had lost though the removal of the lifeline over the past two months, plus a little bit of early Xmas money from family has meant I could put extra in my electric to have the electric fire on a few times a day and eat reasonably well. Pride and shame won’t let me take anymore, although it has been offered.
I think I’ll just scrape though Xmas, but January onwards is a real worry. If we are lucky we will have a mild winter and I might scrape through until May, when I hope to see some personal respite from hard poverty but that's by no means guaranteed - but hope is all some of us have left.
I’ve always managed to survive, sometimes by the skin of my teeth, I’m a seasoned pro at getting by, but it does make me fearful that if someone like me who has been that resourceful at getting by in the past is finding it hard, how are these young families, the old, the disabled and the children living in poverty going to get through this winter?