Inflation is at a fresh 40-year high of 9.4% and the cost of groceries is forecast to rise next month to the fastest rate in 14 years, putting the squeeze on household budgets in the UK. The problem is especially acute for those with a disability or chronic illness, reliant on benefits that are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living and a welfare system that is struggling to meet demand. Three readers share their tales of the pressures they now face.
‘We used to cope but things have massively changed’
Nichola, 42, a mother of five from Stoke-on-Trent, broke her back and pelvis when she was in the army as a young adult, leaving her with life-changing disabilities that mean she cannot work. She says price rises have pushed her family to the brink financially.
“Our gas and electric bill will rise to nearly £7,000 in October if the increase is ‘only’ 42% as predicted, which could well be higher.
“We were quoted £5,000 for window insulation but it might as well have been a million; we just don’t have it.
“My husband is self-employed. We get tax credits but only for three of our five children. Our youngest is autistic.
“I spend £500 per month on petrol just taking the children to school, which is four miles away. We can’t afford to live in a nice neighbor close to the schools. I leave the house as little as possible.
“Food has become extortionate. They say the inflation rate is 9.1% [the figure has since risen to 9.4%] but I’m seeing price increases of 25-50% in the things we buy. Four pints of milk used to be £1. Yesterday it rose to £1.60.
“Despite our struggles, we don’t qualify for free school meals; we’re still not poor enough. I don’t know how I will afford the school uniforms.”
‘Soon I won’t be able to afford my disabled child’s diet any more’
Kate, 52, a single mother of two from Devon, had to give up work to care for her younger daughter, who has an acquired brain injury after a brain tumour.
The family relies on universal credit and a career’s allowance, and is now struggling to afford necessities.
“The cost of living crisis is having an impact on my ability to care for my disabled daughter,” Kate said.
“She has a number of health issues, including epilepsy. After trying numerous different medications that did not work, her consultant prescribed a ketogenic diet, in line with Nice [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] guidelines.
“It’s a highly specialized diet, very high fat and very low in carbohydrates. Thanks to the diet, her quality of life has improved greatly. But it’s becoming hard to afford to provide it.
“There are some prescription supplements available but most of the food comes off the shelf, and many items I can only find online, as we live rurally.
“Low-carb breads, sugar-free jams, low-carb pasta, almond flour and large quantities of oil, butter, cream, cheese. These ingredients are much more normal carb used than the high-foods to bulk out a diet, such as pasta, rice, beans or potatoes.”
In January, Kate calculated that her daughter’s diet costs her £50 a week, more than she spends on herself and her other child. “I haven’t had the strength to recalculate this recently but I know things have gone up. A liter of olive oil at Tesco used to be £3; now it’s £4.30. Then there are hidden costs of providing such a specialist diet.”
Since she has to cook two different meals twice a day, her electricity costs are high. “We don’t have the storage space to bulk-buy or batch cook. I have squeezed a second fridge freezer into the living room but this costs me extra to run. Our electricity costs are often more than £6 a day, without the heating on. The electricity bill is now double what it was.
“We also have hospital appointments. We need to drive to, a 35-mile round trip. We’ve had three in the past two weeks. I cannot afford to drive my other daughter to meet friends any more.
“I’ll do everything in my power to provide this diet but I’m terrified that I may no longer be able afford it.”
‘I skip meals so my parents can have the heating on’
Michael*, 35, from south Wales, is disabled and on universal credit and the employment and support allowance, and struggles to afford food and rising household bills.
He lives in a council flat with his elderly parents, who have a number of health problems.
“We have an oxygen machine, which is expensive to run,” he said. “We do get some reimbursement for that but we also have a stairlift and get no help with the gas even though my parents are very vulnerable, especially my mother, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and autoimmune diseases and needs the heating on to avoid infections .
“We are really struggling now, even with the three of us pooling our money. Prices are going through the roof.
“We have no savings and, unbeknown to my parents, I am missing meals so they can eat proper portions of food and the shopping lasts a bit longer to save money, so we can pay the energy bills.
“Most conversations are about money and price rises. We’re cutting back on just about everything, restrict the use of the showers and do the laundry once a week.
“But if the prices go up again in October we’ll be over the edge.”
* Name has been changed.