Retail trade union Usdaw has this week conducted a cost of living survey ahead of the regulator announcing an increase in the energy price cap, expected tomorrow (Thursday), which is widely predicted to jump by around 50%.

Usdaw’s survey of over 3,000 members found that 75% have already relied on unsecured borrowing to pay bills, with 57% now struggling to keep up with repayments. When asked how they would cope with a price cap hike:

  1. 30% would not use heating.
  2. 62% would significantly cut down on heating.
  3. 40% would cut out other essentials, such as food.

80% reported that financial worries are impacting their mental health.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is heart-breaking to hear that so many low-paid essential workers, who kept the country going during the pandemic, are already struggling to pay their energy bills. That’s before the energy price cap is increased by what is expected to be around 50%.

“The Government must provide substantial support for these working households, who are already struggling to make ends meet. The rumoured Government loans to energy companies, that if passed on to customers could cut bills by £200, is simply not good enough.

“Surely ministers cannot fail to be moved by the evidence from our survey showing that three-quarters are forced to borrow to pay bills and over half are struggling with repayments. 40% are having to choose between heating or eating. Almost all will have to significantly reduce heating use or switch it off altogether if the price cap is significantly raised, as expected.

“This cost of living crisis is also a mental health crisis. Our members have worked throughout the pandemic and they were clapped as key workers. The Prime Minister promised the country would build better, but that simply isn’t happening. Prices are rocketing, wages are barely growing and the Government is distracted by parties. It is no surprise, but deeply worrying, that stress, anxiety and mental health concerns are increasing.

“I was shocked to see that, last night, the Government argued against Labour’s proposal for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers to help ease the energy price crisis and that Tory MPs failed to support it. Our survey shows that low-paid working people desperately need substantial Government action to help them through the cost of living crisis.”

Voices from the frontline of the cost of living crisis:

Retail worker, Scotland: “The cost of living is increasing drastically and the working wages are not, so it’s leaving us with less money each month. Energy bills are a real struggle and with the price hike in April we will all struggle to pay these and have cash for essentials.”

Call centre worker, North West: “I’m worried I won’t be able to keep my home warm, which will then mean my arthritis will play up, which then means I’m unable to work as I am working from home, which then makes me worse off even further.”

Retail worker, Midlands: “Financial struggles have been impacting my mental health tremendously and have also been impacting my performance at work. With food prices, energy bills and national insurance on the rise, I find it worrying that someone in a management position is still living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Food manufacturing worker, North East: “I have just renewed my energy contract. I paid £140 previously and with new contract I will be paying £342, an increase of £202 monthly.”

Retail worker, Wales: “I live with my mother who does not work and is also disabled. We both worry about day to day living and worry about the rising cost of living. We worry all the time about the gas and electricity rise in pricing, we constantly watch the smart meter.”

Retail worker, South East: “Essential food items and energy bills are going up. It’s hard to keep up. Have to borrow expensive loans to pay rent, bills, travel expense on credit cards. Looks like we will drown in debt if it keeps going like this and cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

Retail worker, North West: “As a family we will soon be unable to live. We both work full time and are struggling to make ends meet. We hardly see each other or our children due to having to work every available hour due to the cost of everything rising substantially faster than our wages do: council tax, food and goods, electricity, gas and petrol to name a few.

Retail worker, Wales: “We live a very frugal life as it is, we don’t have a social life as we can’t afford to go out, we buy reduced food at the supermarket, only put the heating on for an hour a day.

Retail worker, North East: “Currently on a 2-year fixed energy deal. Extremely worried about costs when it ends in August. I anticipate our costs doubling.”

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