Magicians In Parliament
The current cost-of-living crisis was caused by the steps taken by the government to manage the country’s struggling economy after the COVID-19 virus and many other contributing factors. However, their efforts to reduce these effects has the public wondering why their money is disappearing so quickly. As the higher powers perform their acts of sorcery, the people of the UK observe from beneath, shivering in their homes as they wonder whether these changes are being made with them in mind or the economy.
Since the lift on lockdown restrictions in 2021, the country’s economy has been plagued by inflation. This has been dubbed the “cost-of-living crisis.” The term references to how the prices of essential products, like clothing and food as well as income tax, are rising at a higher rate than household income. Although the decreases in real income affect all British citizens, it specifically burdens those who are already on low income despite the impacts of this new crisis.
Higher pricing of essential products comes as a result of many factors including COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war.
The COVID-19 virus restricted people worldwide to the confines of their homes in the hopes of reducing the rate of infection. This abrupt change led to a large fall in sales in 2020. After the country’s first nationwide lockdown, companies reported that they’d had a 30% decrease in sales between April and June. This lack of sales directly hindered the economy. This was also the case for other countries internationally, which caused them to increase trade prices with other countries.
Earlier in 2022, all British citizens were informed of President Vladimir Putin’s (Figure 1) attack on Russia’s neighbouring country, Ukraine. As a result, sanctions have been placed against the Russian Federation: the EU banned crude oil imports from Moscow, the world’s second largest oil supplier for global supply chains, which was predicted in March to directly increase gas prices. This theory was proven true as in late June, diesel prices averaged at approximately 197 pence per litre, a large contrast to early January’s approximate average price of 150 pence per litre. These pennies may not sound like much of a difference, but these increase in prices have left companies (like Shell – Figure 2) profiting at the expense of angry British citizens.
In response to the record surge in global gas prices, Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electric Markets) updated the legal price cap for energy companies in February 2022. As of April 1st, approximately a third of Great Britain’s population (22 million) had their energy cap increased by 54%. As expected, this increase greatly worried British citizens. People were shocked to see that those doing pay-as-you-go for their gas and electric would have their annual bill increased by £708. Similarly, those paying by direct debit will see increases of £693.
With 78% of UK households using gas-powered central heating, more than three quarters of the nation are vulnerable to global price changes. This weak spot, paired with the government’s failure to invest in insulation for housing over the past decade, means that many people are currently forced to choose between heating their homes or eating. If the current and previous governments had prioritized renewable energy, overpowering the UK’s reliance on gas-powered heat, people wouldn’t be plagued now by such concerning decisions.
To make matters worse, these Ofgem price caps are expected to last until winter in 2023. With evidence of recent work wages increasing slower than the CPI inflation rate (Figure 3), it’s a wonder how people will be able to cope for the coming months. In fact, a band 5 NHS nurse stated that her salary for October was £1500 but she “earnt less in November” - £1000 - due to an increase in income tax enforced by the government. Since she lives in London, the rapid rise in rental costs would already affect her living circumstances. So, cutting her pay and increasing her gas and electric bill would place her, and many other UK citizens, in a dangerous situation during the winter.
If someone who is medically vulnerable does choose to keep their heating off this winter in order to save money and feed themselves, this could lead to:
- Increased likelihood of contracting a respiratory infection
- Stress on the cardiovascular system
- Worsening asthma symptoms/the development of asthma
- Increased chance of worsening mental health
In fact, for the elderly and those with cardiorespiratory disease, health risks increase in environments under 18°C. Depending on the number of occupants, the quality of insulation and other variables, an unheated home can become as cold as the outside temperature. The ideal living room temperature for the elderly is 21°C, with bathrooms between 22°C and 24°C, and 18°C in their bedroom. It is more important that seniors are in the correct temperatures as they tend to have less body fat and therefore find it more difficult to retain body heat. However, this winter, when temperatures can average at approximately 10.5°C during the day and 5°C during the night (Figure 4), seniors are expected to freeze in their houses if unable to pay their increased energy bills.
In response to the absurd energy bills, thousands of British activists took part in protests on October 1st and 2nd. Many of them carried signs, some saying: “Tax the Rich” “Heat or Eat?” “Heating is not a Luxury” and “Freeze Prices, not People.” These protesters blocked roads and bridges in cities all across the nation like London, Edinburgh, Swansea and Liverpool. In Birmingham, people even burned mock energy bills to signify their resentful stance on the matter.
On the first day of protesting, October 1st, the Energy Bill Relief Scheme was instated after the government waved their wand - or their white flag. This would allow the government to provide financial aid for non-domestic customers (like charities and businesses) and their energy bills. However, this doesn’t directly help citizens who are struggling with their energy bills. But at least pensioners don’t have to fret since, as of November 23rd, they would receive up to £300 per household on top of regular Winter Fuel Payments from the government. So, between the end of November to March 2023, 11.6 million pensioners in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have less to worry about due to this ease on payments.
But when looking to everyday adult citizens, how will they fare? Recently, a heart-breaking video of a woman visibly shivering under a blanket in her house was posted on TikTok. @h.k.harper on TikTok explained how it was so cold in her house that she had to wrap up in a duvet. In fact, it is so cold in her house that her son had three different layers on just to keep warm. After the video received massive exposure, people were able to raise £300 to help her. She later returned to the platform, thanking all of those who donated and liked the video.
But how can we help ourselves? Here are some solutions:
1. To decrease draughts and cold winds inside the house, ensure you draught-proof around windows and doors, and use draught excluders beneath the doors.
2. Use radiator foil, placed between the radiator and the wall, to reflect heat back into the room and boost the heating quality inside the house. 35% of heat is usually lost through walls and windows.
3. Replace failed double-glazing windows, as heat can be lost through these.
4. Move furniture away from radiators to stop them from absorbing the heat.
5. Using a slow cooker requires less energy than ovens, so you could use this instead to cut down on energy costs. But if you do decide to use an oven, turn it off when finished with cooking and leave the door open to provide extra heat.
6. When using your heating, insulate any exposed pipes in rooms that you don’t want to heat up.
7. Switch the lightbulbs in your house to LED and whenever they are not in use, make sure to turn them off.
8. Use a manual lawnmower instead of an electric lawnmower.
9. Double up on socks.
10. Regularly exercise to retain body heat
Even though these are very trying times and British citizens may not have as much support from the government’s mystical powers as they’d like, there are different methods that can help someone. As well as this, there are many charities that can help families in need:
- Family Fund (can provide a family with clothing, household items and kitchen appliances)
- Save the Children (delivers food, medicine and shelter)
- Family Action (help with mental health issues, financial hardship and provide intensive family support).
Written by Olufunke Morakinyo
Edited by Elizabeth Hunter
Marketed by Tazrian Ahmed