Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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United Kingdom: people have to choose: “eat or heat”

Rising prices plunged Britain into a crisis. Even with everyday things, many people have to make difficult decisions.

Many Brits face tough decisions this winter. “Right now in the UK, we often hear of people having to choose between warming up and eating,” says Gavin Edwards, a welfare expert at Britain’s largest union, Unison. “And this is not an unusual situation, it is happening more and more often. It is shocking in a seemingly prosperous country and in one of the most important economies in the world.”

Like much of Europe, the UK is experiencing a cost of living crisis. Currently the

Inflation around 10 per cent, but is expected to be even higher in the coming months. The costs of food and energy have risen at the fastest pace in the last 40 years. Wage increases can’t keep up.

Although the headlines are currently dominated by the effects of the war in Ukraine or the turmoil caused by the government’s controversial tax cut plans: Above all, “the human side and the human costs are terrible,” Edwards says.

“I have recently noticed that people’s shopping habits are changing,” says Robert Docherty. He is a social worker in Sunderland in the north east of England, one of the poorest areas in the UK. The discount parking lots were empty, now they’re full of people only half-filling their shopping carts.

“People have gone from the 80-cent bag of peas to the smaller 40-cent (50-cent) bag. This to me is a clear indication that people are struggling. Especially the retirees here,” he continues. “When I come from here, there are people who are over 80 and they are freezing because they can’t afford heating.”

Docherty tells of a friend who lives in the same community and has nothing in his apartment but an electric stove and a television. He is afraid of gas heating and never turns on the light, so he is always pitch dark. Despite this, he spends £ 13 a week on electricity because his electricity is billed through a prepaid meter. The rates are significantly more expensive than those paying by direct debit. Docherty considers it “usury”.

Independent consulting organization Citizens Advice estimates that by the end of the year, another half a million indebted people could join the millions already forced to use such prepaid meters. These cost even more in the winter because the costs are not charged evenly throughout the year, as is the case with direct debits.

People are faced with a choice: “eat or heat,” Docherty says. “With this government, everyone’s disposable income is at risk and healthcare workers in particular have very little. After you pay for your shopping, all major bills, rent and taxes, you have nothing left.”

It tells of nurses who haven’t taken a vacation in ten years and work 80 hours a week just to pay their bills. The impact on families and quality of life is devastating, she says. “People who can’t work that long face a real dilemma.” You could take a second job or go to the whiteboard to make ends meet. “These are your choices – it’s so blatant.”

Studies by insurer Royal London show that rising cost of living is forcing millions of people to take on additional jobs. However, working longer hours is not a realistic option for many UK workers, with more than a quarter of full-time workers surveyed already working more than 48 hours a week.

For those at the forefront of the crisis, the situation is sad. “When I talk to the nurses, they’re just trying to keep their heads out of the water. I think we’ve kind of normalized the misery in this area,” Edwards said.

“People are unhappy because they work as many hours as possible. They have to work overtime so they don’t have time for their families, and even then they can barely make ends meet,” Edwards says. “An economy cannot function in the long run and, above all, no systemically important part of the public service.”

After a decade of cuts, the public sector is underfunded and the number of unoccupied nursing jobs is increasing rapidly. No wonder: the hotel and restaurant sector and retail, Amazon in the first place, have particularly courted nursing staff in recent years, sometimes even with specific job advertisements. They promise better wages and entry bonuses.

The crisis has gone far beyond low-income workers and those with welfare. “Inflation affects everyone with low or middle income and even those with above average income see how it affects their quality of life,” Edwards says.

The new prime minister, Liz Truss, has been in office for just over a month. But with the mini-budget announced by her government, she immediately triggered another crisis: the currency dropped significantly. Read more about this here. This has a direct impact on people. For example, rising interest rates are pushing many buyers out of the market, which in turn has impacted the private rental industry.

The cost of living crisis is also affecting those who work at the heart of the government. The Union of Public and Commercial Services (PCS) has collected the testimonies of more than 150 officials of the Department of Work and Pensions. They found that many of them are without showers, heat and food, or have to take out short-term loans to support their families as they struggle with rising inflation and high energy bills.

Eve is a mother of three and works in a government agency: “Given the cost of living, I had to decide if I wanted to heat my home for the children or buy new work clothes”.

Kerry, an administrative employee, said she was forced to visit the local food bank because after paying bills and buying groceries, she ran out of money for the rest of the month. “I have to go overboard to meet my family’s needs and this is affecting the rest of the month. As energy prices rise, I am really scared of using gas. I often skip a meal so my kids can get something to eat. to eat, “describes his desperation.

The PCS estimates that one in 12 agents are now using whiteboards due to rising prices. A pattern repeated throughout the public sector.

A new study of 150 healthcare executives found that nearly half of hospitals have or plan to set up food banks for nurses. At a time when health care workers are already struggling with poor mental health due to stress, debt and poverty, many carers would forgo food as they work to afford clothes and food for their Has children.

“We see people suffering from extreme levels of stress and psychological distress and this situation will only increase,” said John McGowen, general secretary of the Social Workers Union, the UK’s largest social workers union. 43% of members find it difficult to pay their bills. 25 percent are expected to visit a table in the next few months – and these are professionals with a matching salary.

Humanitarian organizations are now suffering too. “The charities and food banks are overwhelmed,” says McGowen. “These organizations, which are supposed to help the needy, don’t even have the means to provide basic services.” The food banks ran out of stock because the demand was so great.

As winter approaches, inflation forecast, energy price hikes still to come and welfare cuts looming in real terms, McGowan predicts many people’s plight will worsen.

“People are already saving on electricity and gas, but they will be wondering what else they can save,” McGowan said. “They live in fear because they know that outstanding debts will be collected and some will lose their homes and families.”

The UK is currently a country where parents do not earn enough to feed, dress or even wash their children. Free school meals are the order of the day, but supplies are running out here too. Carers are forced to sell their cars because they can no longer pay for gas. Pubs and community centers – once the heart of the community – can no longer afford electricity and are therefore only open on weekends.

Retirees are left in the dark because nursing homes cannot afford to leave the lights on. One of McGowen’s predictions sounds particularly frightening. He assumes that “heat banks” will become a reality in many places. So that cities offer places where people can warm up.

“A few years ago we laughed at license plates because we thought they were quite rare,” says McGowen. “But there are now more food banks than McDonald’s and I expect heated benches to be the next thing that could get sadder every day.”

Unionist Edwards agrees. “There is already talk of community heating zones, such as pubs, churches, community centers, so people can get together and warm up in the evening.

“I’m glad the responsible people are organizing this for the needy, but it shouldn’t be necessary. We shouldn’t need community heating panels or rooms,” Edwards said. “And we really wouldn’t need it if we had a different political approach in this country.”

Such a different approach has been suggested by a series of nationwide campaigns. These aim to get to the root of the causes of the explosion in the cost of living. One is Enough is Enough: a coalition of trade unions, community groups, food poverty activists and left-wing Labor MPs. They are demanding an increase in the minimum wage, a freeze on energy bills, a new law on the right to food, a rental ceiling and a higher tax on the rich.

The “Don’t Pay UK” campaign is more radical. He wants to hit energy bills by getting signatories to revoke their direct debits en masse. The pressure must be exerted by threatening chaos and lost profits.

At the same time, one of the biggest employment disputes in Britain of the last 40 years is raging. Machinists, nurses and lawyers are all on strike to shut down Britain and vent their anger at the high cost of living. After all, no one should choose between heating their home or feeding their family.

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