With the economy taking a downturn and confusion over what this means for us all – especially deaf people – Lizzie has researched what assistance is out there – we hope this helps as a one-stop-shop point of reference.
The cause of the ‘cost-of-living’ crisis is complex, but the impact is clear: those who are most vulnerable will be the worst affected. This includes deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as disabled people. It’s important to understand the different drivers of this crisis, the support available, and what we can all do – individually and collectively – to tackle these challenges.
The timing of the British exit from the EU (Brexit) and the global pandemic have contributed to a perfect storm of supply issues and rising costs. Beginning in 2020, a shortage of food and other goods (such as semiconductors and car parts) meant that prices rose along with an increase in shipping costs, and the lack of workers from the EU meant that food took longer to get to shelves or went to waste.
One of the most worrying impacts so far are the sharp increases in gas and energy bills. Average petrol costs rose and in July 2022 were the highest since records began. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that disrupted European gas supplies, the European Commission’s announcement to begin phasing out supplies from Russia, the increased demand for gas in Asia, outages in liquified natural gas production, and depleted gas storage supplies have all contributed to the current energy crisis.
Affordable housing and council housing shortages have created more competition and rising rents in the private rental market. It is much harder to buy housing or get a mortgage when most of your income is spent on rent, especially in already expensive cities such as London. This has seen an historic rise in landlord evictions because people are quite simply unable to pay the rent.
In immediate terms, this means there has been a fall in our disposable incomes since the end of 2021. The rising costs of services and products – from food and essentials to gas and energy prices, rent, and tax increases – mean that our incomes are no longer sufficient, which has led to inflation and the current crisis. This may very likely lead to recession, though some economists believe we are there already.
All these effects come together to create conditions where those already experiencing financial adversity, on the lowest incomes, and those who are vulnerable, are going to struggle the most, but the impact will also be felt by those on middle incomes. Those on the highest incomes may not feel much of the financial stress of the coming months and years.
What help is currently available?
Earlier in 2022 the government announced several financial support packages for people to offset the crisis, and soon after being elected as the new leader, Prime Minister Liz Truss announced a few other mitigations, including an energy price cap.
The current package of support includes five different elements (Source: Commons Library Website):
- The Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS)
£400 non-repayable grant automatically given as a credit from your energy supplier in Autumn 2022: ‘The grant will be paid to households over six months from October 2022. Direct debit and credit customers will receive it as credit to their account. Customers on prepayment meters will have the money applied to their meter or paid via a voucher.’ (Source: Commons Library).
- A £650 Cost-of-Living Payment
To be paid in two instalments for those in receipt of some means tested benefits (including Universal Credit and most of the legacy benefits it is replacing, and Pension Credit).
- A £150 Disability Cost-of-Living Payment
For those on non-means tested benefits, which includes Disability Living Allowance and PIP – you have to have been receiving these benefits before 25th May 2022 (or had an application accepted before or on that date even if you weren’t yet receiving payment). It will be paid on or in the weeks after 20th September 2022.
- A £300 Pensioner Cost-of-Living Payment
Paid in addition to the usual Winter Fuel Payment, to households with at least one person entitled to the Fuel payment for winter 2022/2023.
- A Council Tax Rebate of £150
Available to those paying for council tax in bands A to D. The council will directly make the payment to your account by direct debit if you live in an eligible property. If you don’t pay by direct debit your local council should have been in touch with details of how the rebate can be claimed (Source: Gov UK website).
Councils may run schemes called ‘welfare assistance’ or ‘Household Support Fund’. They could be able to offer help paying for energy and water bills, food, and essential items, such as clothes or household appliances like an oven.
You can get in touch with your local council on the Gov UK website. Usually once you’ve found your council website, there will be information on the cost-of-living support they offer (alternatively, try searching for the two terms above – ‘welfare assistance’ or ‘Household Support Fund’ – on your council website).
Citizens Advice has information on what support you might be entitled to, as well as debt advice, how to use food banks, budgeting, mortgage issues, and getting help with essential costs.
Truss announced an energy bills cap of £2,500 on 8th September 2022, which caps the amount households will have to pay per year for the next two winters, beginning on 1st October 2022. This is expected to bring down inflation in the short term but may increase inflation later. It is meant to limit the amount energy companies can charge per unit of gas and electricity, along with the standing charge you pay for a unit of fuel.
However, it doesn’t mean that customers will automatically pay less for their energy bill – that seems to be dependent on the type of housing you have, the energy tariff you’re on, and whether you use more energy than the average household. If you do use more energy for whatever reason – you will be charged more. In a nutshell – if you use less energy, you will pay less, but if you use more, you will pay more.
You may be able to get in touch with your energy company too, and ask for help, especially if you can’t pay their bill. They may be able to reduce or waive some of their fees or put you on a tariff that costs less.
What can we do to cut costs and help each other?
For some people already vulnerable and in difficult circumstances, these mitigations won’t help as much as they should. Insulating homes properly, providing affordable homes, putting a cap on private rent, and even exploring the idea of universal basic income could be something that helps more in the long term.
The ‘cost-of-living’ crisis is a structural and economic issue that is out of the individual’s control, and therefore the government and energy companies should be doing all they can to support people. Considering none of us is alone in this crisis, energy and utility companies should be looking to change their business and pricing practices to reflect the current issues, and the government needs to act and understand the pressures people are experiencing.
However, it does seem that people who are able to (particularly those on middle and higher incomes) can also introduce some changes to their household bills, energy use habits, and try cost-saving tips that will bring down the overall household bill to a potentially more manageable cost.
There are many factsheets and articles covering those tips, including Martin Lewis’ ‘Cost of living help guide’, a comprehensive gathering of over 90 suggestions, including information about benefits and grants, help from councils, money saving vouchers and tips, food tips, and utility bill savings (such as water saving gadgets and tips).
Clare Seal, myfrugalyear on Instagram, also offers some reassuring and practical advice and tips. She is known for being a financial coach and has a book called ‘Five Steps to Financial Wellbeing’. On Instagram she has several posts covering the crisis plus many financial and mental wellbeing tips – I’ve found her advice helpful in the past. She has experienced financial struggles herself and understands the stress that puts on people.
Perhaps a benefit of some of us who are younger and able to wrap up in layers using a bit less household energy than we normally do, is that general energy usage will also go down, a bonus for the environment. This is just a potential gain even though I am definitely not advocating for people to be freezing – if you need warmth then definitely use heating when you need it.
There are also several options for renting or sharing tools, electronic products, or having your broken things mended for free. Learning about community initiatives and sharing in your area may help in unexpected ways. Switching your mindset to reusing, recycling/upcycling, sharing tools and gadgets, and borrowing items will save some costs.
One of the more reassuring tips I came across was a way to prioritise which bills should be paid first. The rule is to pay your rent or mortgage first, then creditors, then food, paying for utilities with whatever is left. In this case, survival and trying to ensure you have a roof over your head and food to eat is clearly most important.
We can put pressure on the government to offer more help to avoid further catastrophe over the winter. There are several campaigns and national strikes around the cost of living and energy crisis (including Enough is Enough, and Don’t Pay UK), and pressuring your MPs and councils to take action is often as simple as organising a letter writing campaign or an audience. Reminding MPs that they work for you is important.
Another effect of a crisis like this is worsening mental health or social isolation. Particularly if people have less disposable income to spend on time out with friends or doing hobbies, going to events, travelling (not necessarily holidays, just to see family further afield for example), or leisure activities. And deaf and hard of hearing people are more prone to isolation and struggles with mental health.
In times of uncertainty and social change, we need people more than ever, so I’d suggest forming groups where people check in with each other more often, whether over Whatsapp or Signal, or by Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. You could also create small Facebook groups or similar for checking in with people or sharing worries and tips, and to ask for help with things.
Meeting friends or family in local parks, or communal meeting areas, with coffee or tea you’ve made yourself, or alternatively creating local support groups may be essential. During the first half of the pandemic, mutual aid groups were formed, and something similar may prove to be important over the coming months. If you can offer skills or support to other people, don’t be afraid to offer help.
Now is probably a good time to befriend neighbours or check in with them if they’re friendly. Vulnerable or elderly neighbours may also appreciate the extra support this winter. Councils often have local hobby or interest gatherings which may be worth looking into – advocating for access is another matter, but often you might find deaf groups too or another person could go with you. Community will be important during this time, whether in person or online.
Make more use of public services if you don’t already – for example, if you have a local library, they have ebooks, films, music, and may offer a host of other useful services, perhaps even book groups or community events. If you work from home and don’t take any calls (of course for us deaf people Zoom might crop up!), occasionally working in the library or shared public workspaces could be a good option to save on bills and to get a change of scenery.
You are not alone
Whatever happens over the next few months, be reassured that you are not alone, and there is always a possibility that more measures will be put in place. Regardless, make sure you take care of the essentials first, including food. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that’s from your energy company, council, food banks, or friends and family.
Most of all, remember that there is no shame if you’re struggling – many of us will be in the same boat and relying more on community could be a lifeline.
We will keep you updated if anything changes.
Lizzie Ward is a freelance writer and journalist, poet, and author of Fragments: Essays and Philosophies. She is a profoundly deaf, autistic person with ADHD (late-diagnosed), and thus has a number of writing and life interests ranging from intersections of identity and social justice, to culture and the arts, creativity and crafts, to speculative, magical realism, Sci-Fi and fantasy stories – with many stops in between. She currently lives in North London with her husband and their cat Coco, short for Chocolat.
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