New cost-of-living research by Citizens Advice Northumberland has revealed that 93 per cent of respondents are directly impacted by rising costs. Many were regularly skipping meals, eating children’s leftovers, and having to borrow to help them manage.
‘Living on the Edge: the impact of rising costs on the people of the North East’, report by Citizens Advice Northumberland, sets out the survey results of 350 Citizens Advice clients. The survey was completed between October and December 2022.
Energy costs were the biggest concern, closely followed by food. Council tax, personal hygiene and cleaning products, household costs and medical expenses were all areas of anxiety. The newly published report also includes detailed studies of cost-of-living effects in energy, child
poverty, crisis support and local office services, and how Citizens Advice is responding to the huge increase in demand for its services. Each of these focus reports was compiled by Citizens Advice research and campaigns teams in Northumberland, Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, Darlington and Hartlepool.
The energy focus report by Citizens Advice Northumberland includes real life examples of the impact of rising costs on individuals. Three of these are listed below:
- A pensioner living on her own with multiple health problems including COPD risked carbon monoxide poisoning in an attempt to reduce her energy bills by using a disposable barbecue in her kitchen rather than the oven.
- A pensioner with physical health issues, living alone in off-gas accommodation with poor energy rating, was reduced to basic means of getting by because he was unaware of, or too self-sufficient to claim benefits he was entitled to. He had only £4 left on the meter, only
used battery powered lighting, and was forced to be very frugal with shopping and all aspects of life.
- A family with three children living in a housing association property in Northumberland were facing £6000 arrears with British Gas. The client’s energy worries were significantly affecting her mental health.
Citizens Advice Northumberland was able to assist in all three cases, and help to resolve problems which were affecting the physical and mental health of those involved.
Rachel Turnbull, Citizens Advice Northumberland’s operations manager, who wrote the Living on the Edge report, said: “What the report highlights is the deep and very real consequences of rapidly rising costs on people whose health and well-being are often threatened by spiralling debt.
“The effects of this crisis show no sign of abating, given the unprecedented demand for our services. We have set out four key areas for action by government, to tackle the financial cliff-edge facing millions of households come April.”
Living on the Edge’s four recommendations are: –
- Benefits should be raised in line with inflation in April, and further targeted support made available.
- Energy companies must be stopped from forcing people in debt on prepayment meters.
- Action must be taken to improve the insulation of homes across the country and reduce bills for the long-term.
- Support must continue for charitable organisations which provide vital interventions and help people find a way forward.
The cost-of-living crisis has meant that Citizens Advice offices across the North East have seen a huge increase in enquiries. They have helped more than 130,000 with more than 560,000 issues in the year to September 2022. As a result, the offices recorded an income gain of £51 million, mainly through helping clients with benefits claims. They also helped clients to write off £61.5 million of debt during 2021-2022.
Sally Harwood, Citizens Advice Northumberland research and campaigns volunteer, wrote the Energy focus report within Living on the Edge. She said: “There are 20,000 households in Northumberland struggling due to fuel poverty. One third of enquiries to our Energy Advice team come from rural areas where many have to cope with not only energy inefficient homes, but also the most expensive energy.
“Fuel poverty is at the heart of the ‘heat or eat’ predicament, and leads to problems of damp, mould, stress, reduced dexterity and immunity, and social isolation that can arise as a result of living in a home that is too cold for too long. These are long-term human costs that have to be addressed quickly by government.”