Front of Willmore End residence
LONDON, United Kingdom — Still recovering from the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens of the country are now facing an additional trial: the cost-of-living crisis. This societal crisis was brought about by several factors including the pandemic, the economic impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation, and Brexit aftermath. The news of this sudden surge has shocked the nation, including my family members and community residing in London. With no time to prepare, people have been weathering the storm, trying to figure out how to possibly adapt to these drastic changes.
Since late 2021, the price of essential goods has been rising beyond what the average household income can accommodate. Basic things like grocery runs and keeping a warm house have become luxuries that less and less people can afford. In addition to the countless concerning reports on the news day after day, the effect of this has also been apparent to me through those around me. My family members living in London have been impacted by rising costs which they have found difficulty incorporating into their budgets. The experience of my mother in particular, a resident of Willmore End, Merton has given me a very close look into the intricacies of the matters at hand.
Sara Geelani, is a single parent and an elementary school teacher facing challenges trying to provide for her family and keep her household running on a teacher’s salary. For context, in the United Kingdom, the average elementary school teacher salary is £2,200 GBP per month, which is roughly $2,700 US dollars. Even under normal circumstances, this is a low salary. Now, it is even harder to manage as her salary has not increased to account for the increase in living costs.
Sara with one of her third grade students
Sara has allowed me to speak with her about her experience tackling this crisis so far. Since this crisis encompasses many things, Sara first began with its effect on groceries, “Even though my family is fortunate enough to not be experiencing the worst of this, even we have to take extra care now. I really try to cut down on buying foods we don't absolutely need like snack foods."
As reported by Sky News, “Prices for food and non-alcoholic beverages rose 14.6% over the year to September 2022, increasing again for the 14th consecutive month.” Normally, I don’t think I would have understood how those figures could translate to real life, but during my stay in London over the past six months, I have seen it for myself. While I am living here, I take turns with my mom paying for the groceries which has made me notice just how much things have changed. For example, I vividly remember when the price of butter shot up. The same packet of butter I was buying at Sainsbury's for £1.49 GBP ($1.81 USD) suddenly shot up to £1.99 GBP ($2.44 USD), which was about a 33% increase in less than a week.
Price of butter on Sainsbury's online store before
Price of butter on Sainsbury's online store after
One budgeting strategy Sara has taken on is the use of supermarket loyalty cards. According to the article, "Loyalty Programs Can Help Consumers Navigate The Cost-Of-Living Crisis" by Advertising Week, the author, Dimitri Kyprianou discusses the appeal of these cards to customers, "Joining a loyalty scheme is a sensible way to help consumers tighten their belts – previous sentiment has been: ‘I’m shopping there anyway so I might as well get a little bit extra back’, but nowadays the rise of ‘member pricing’ from the likes of Tesco Clubcard and Nectar allow customers immediate access to cheaper prices in supermarkets, increasing their popularity." Similarly, Sara shares this experience and has been benefiting from the reduced costs and better deals. For example, she now has both a Tesco Clubcard, and Nectar card and uses them to get discounted prices exclusively for members. She explains she previously hadn't owned any loyalty cards, "I've never really been one to subscribe to these things but after I started seeing member pricing at the local Sainsbury's, the offers were too good to pass up. It does make a difference, especially these days when money is so at the front of everyone's minds."
Sara's local Sainsbury's store in Morden, London
Sara goes on to explain additional changes she’s had to make to reduce the household energy consumption, “As a mother of four, I’ve been cooking for ages without a second thought. Now gas is more expensive than ever! I heat things in the microwave that I used to heat on the stove like baked beans, and soup. I try to use the oven as little as possible. Any time I need hot water, I heat the water in an electric kettle first. I am very wary of using the gas now.”
As reported by Sky News, “Average energy bills have risen by nearly £700 to just under £2,000 a year in April, and the Bank of England is expecting another annual rise of £830 in October.” In addition to energy expended while cooking, heating is becoming a bigger problem now that winter is approaching. My family and I don’t use the heating nearly as much as we did in previous years. Even indoors, we make sure we’re layered up so there’s less of a need for heating. When we do have to turn it on, we have set the central heating on a timer, so it comes on for fifteen-minute intervals throughout the day. Fifteen minutes is enough to heat the house for a while until the next burst comes in the next hour or so.
Sara and her mother, Raquel
In addition to Sara’s responsibilities to her job and four daughters, she also spends a great deal of time caring for her 94-year-old mother, Raquel. She has been living with her mother since the beginning of the pandemic in order to give her as much support as possible. In a way, Sara’s current living situation has helped her since her mother is eligible for extra financial assistance from the government due to her status as a senior citizen. This assistance has helped make heating and gas more affordable. However, almost all of her mother’s everyday essentials like the newspaper, and television guides have increased in price too. All of these extra costs accumulate and ultimately add to the increasing financial strain.
Because of Raquel's older age, her finances have been managed by Sara and her two sons for many years now. Over those years, she had been at ease with it being handled by them and so money stopped being one of those things that were on the forefront of her mind. It wasn't until recently that she began to worry about affordability and cutting costs. According to findings from a census carried out by the Office for National Statistics, "Around three-quarters (77%) of adults were worried (being very or somewhat worried) about the rising cost of living in October 2022." This data shows that this crisis not only takes a financial toll, but a mental one too, which has been very evident to me through conversations with my grandmother. For example, now she frequently asks me if she will be allowed to heat her home that day and suggests we all sit in the same room so we need only have one light on. Fortunately, the situation is not that bad for Raquel and family, but this is something I have to explain to her almost every day. Despite her poor memory, she is well aware of the current circumstances which have become a source of worry.
While it is true there are various things people can do to ease the burden, it is not sustainable long-term. The main responsibility falls on the government to help its people during this time. For example, The Labour Party has been proposing the government implement windfall tax. This would mean large oil and gas companies use their excess profits as a result of the soaring cost of energy to provide relief on energy bills. If this policy were to be enacted, calculations done by The Labour Party show it could give each household £600 of relief this year.