AS the cost of living continues to spiral out of control and people are forced to make decisions around paying bills and eating, we visited the Falls Women’s Centre to find out how the rising costs are affecting local families.
Due to the nature of the topic, it was agreed that those speaking to us would not be named in the article to allow them to open up about the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on them.
From the conversation it is clear that there is a worry around the rising cost of electricity and fuel. One woman whom we spoke to said that she is glad that we are coming into warmer weather so that she doesn’t have to turn on her heating.
“We have oil heating and I am worried what prices are going to be like in the winter," she said. "My kettle is also never off and I even have to think about whether I need to iron my clothes to cut down on my electric. At the same time though, as prices are rising, our benefits and pensions aren’t going up to meet that.”
Another woman said that she is now having to keep track of how long she has her heating on so that she can control the cost.
“I would have put the heating on whenever I felt cold but I just can’t afford to do that now. I would put it on for a bit around 6 o’clock but it feels like anytime you watch the news the prices are just going up and up. It has got now that I am turning my heat off and putting a cardigan on or heating a hot water bottle and going to bed.
I monitored my electric over the last year. On average every Saturday I was putting £20 into the electric for a household of five. That gradually increased to £30 and now its sitting at £45 a week.
“I also used to love going to Marks and Spencer’s to spoil myself with a wee luxury but I can’t afford that now and when I am going to the supermarket I am buying the basics of what I need.”
A third woman admitted that she only puts her heating on for an hour.
“I hit the boost button which knocks it on for an hour and that’s it. It has caused more arguments than enough in our house because they’re cold but we just can’t afford it.
“When it comes to food, I have also started to write a list and stick to that. There are times where I have ran out of bread and milk and have had to wait until I got paid to be able to buy more.”
When it comes to the costs associated with working from home, one woman that we spoke to said that she has seen an increase in costs due to her son having yet to return to the office.
“I monitored my electric over the last year. On average every Saturday I was putting £20 into the electric for a household of five. That gradually increased to £30 and now its sitting at £45 a week.
“I got six days out of £40 of electric. I have blamed my son who is working from home. While they get £6 extra for working from home, that is taxed and what they’re giving him in one hand is going back in tax.
My daughter moved back in with me because she couldn’t afford to pay her rent and keep herself. That is then putting more pressure on my bills. It is a double whammy because she is under a lot of pressure and I am having to help her out.”
“Employers are also not asking staff how they are managing with their electric and heat when they are working from home. The £6 doesn’t cover a day’s work from home. Employers are reaping the benefits of reduced costs from working from home but equally when it is children who still live with their parents, that burden of added costs is falling on the parents.”
Another result of the spiralling costs, is that many parents are seeing their children return to the family home as they cannot afford to keep up their rent or mortgage and pay their bills. One woman who we spoke to at the Falls Women’s Centre explained the impact that her daughter returning has had on her.
“My daughter moved back in with me because she couldn’t afford to pay her rent and keep herself. That is then putting more pressure on my bills. It is a double whammy because she is under a lot of pressure and I am having to help her out.”
When it comes to support from the government, there were mixed views on how that should be implemented. Having analysed the manifestoes of our local parties ahead of the election, one of the women we spoke to said that she disagreed with the proposals from Sinn Féin and the SDLP to give people a one-off payments of around £200.
“£200 will help you one day but you will still be in the same position the next week. It is not going to be life changing. That wouldn’t even put a plaster over it because it could be spent in half an hour on everything you need and you'd still be in the same position.
“The government need to look more longer-term with an immediate reduction in the electric and gas. They also need to do what Gordon Brown did during the 2008 recession and reduce the VAT on everything, even if it’s only for a couple of months.
“When they did that we saw such a reduction in the cost of everything in the shops. People were then able to have money in their purses again.
“I would rather they put the £400 million that they say is locked in Stormont into the health service so I know that if I get sick I know that I am going to a good hospital rather than giving everyone £200.”