Jennifer Jones has been paying more for her energy meter, but it isn’t ever enough. When she cannot pay, there are swift results.
The power at her home in London has been shut off without warning three times in the last few days and once while eggs were being cooked.
Like many others, Jones, age 54, is struggling to make ends meet with rising food and energy costs as they increase during the country's most expensive crisis regarding the cost of living in a generation. A former school superviser, she suffers from health issues and relies on welfare benefits to get by, but her benefits are not enough to pay the rapidly rising costs.
“I've always struggled, but not as much,” she added. “Everything is going up. I can’t even pay my rent, my council tax, I can’t afford to do anything. … I keep asking myself, what am I supposed to do?”
Things are only becoming worse. UK residents can expect an increase of 80 percent in their household bills for energy, the country's energy regulator announced on Friday after a record 54 percent increase in April. This will increase the cost for the average consumer from 1,971 pounds ($2,332) annually up to 3,549.
The most recent price cap, which is the highest amount gas providers can charge customers for a unit of energy, is to take effect on October. 1. This will be when the colder months are beginning. Prices are predicted to rise in January, bringing them up to 4,000 pounds.
The reason for the rise is the rising cost of wholesale natural gas, which was triggered by Russia's conflict in Ukraine and is pushing higher prices for consumers and destabilizing economies across Europe which rely on gas to heat homes and for generating electricity.
This includes the United Kingdom, which has the highest rate of inflation of those in the Group of Seven (G7) richest democracies. The country has seen violent strikes that lasted for months as workers demand pay raises to keep up with the increasing cost of living.
The rising energy costs, coupled with the rapidly increasing cost of food are likely to increase inflation to a 40-year-high of 10.1 percent recorded in July. This could cause a recession later in the year, as the Bank of England has predicted. Public health officials, charities, and even energy firms warn of dire consequences for those who are having a hard time obtaining basic necessities because wages have fallen behind.
Jon Taylor, who helps Jones as well as other members of the credit counseling organization Christians Against Poverty, said a growing number of people who've never faced debt issues have turned to the charity's helpline.
“What I’m seeing a lot of at the moment is personal tragedies, losing loved ones, emotional health problems,” he said. “The pressure of not knowing how to pay the next bill or having enough food to survive just accentuates whatever they’re already going through.”
Around 1 million households with low incomes have been forced to take on more debts to pay an essential bill, as per a study conducted in May by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses specifically on UK poverty.
The decrease of living standard has been “of a scale we haven't seen for many decades,” said Rebecca McDonald, the charity's chief economist. “It really warrants big and creative national policy interventions in order to prevent what is a difficult year becoming essentially a catastrophe for many low-income families.”
The British Conservative Party government is under immense pressure to aid businesses and people quickly. The authorities have confirmed that they'll send approximately 1,200 pounds to low-income people. Every household, regardless of their financial status is getting 400 pounds off their energy bill this winter.
Many argue that financial aid must be increased by two times at a minimum. Some have even demanded an immediate suspension of the amount suppliers are able to charge for electricity. The opposition Labour Party has called for an extension of the temporary tax on windfall profits of gas and oil businesses to fund relief.
However, the government has stated that no additional measures will be released until the Conservative Party announces a new leader to succeed Boris Johnson on Sept. 5.
The two politicians vying to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, both don’t seem to favor taxing energy.
Treasury head Nadhim Zahawi admitted that a rise in the cap on energy prices could create “stress and anxiety.” But he emphasized that the government was willing to come up with more options to assist households.
“While [Russian president Vladimir] Putin is driving up energy prices in revenge for our support of Ukraine’s brave struggle for freedom, I am working flat out to develop options for further support,” he said. “This will mean the incoming prime minister can hit the ground running and deliver support to those who need it most, as soon as possible.”
Unions from a variety of key sectors have responded by striking to demand wage increases which keep pace with the rate of inflation. A string of rail strikes caused the UK train system to a standstill on high-traffic days this summer. Postal and port workers, garbage collectors, and attorneys, have also taken part in walkouts to protest wage disputes.
A grassroots movement called “Don't Pay” is trying to rally one million members who pledge the non-payment of their electricity bills by October 1 in the event that the price increase is allowed to proceed. The group hopes that the mass non-payment will pressure energy companies to stop the current crisis.
“Everyone we speak to thinks that the price increases we’ve seen and are going to be seeing on Oct. 1 are beyond a joke and will push people to the edge,” said Jeffrey James, one of the campaign's organizers.
“We are being forced into poverty, whilst others who are already in poverty will be forced into a life-or-death situation this winter,” said the official.
“That is the level of discontent and despair we are talking about.”