A UK cost-of-living crisis has people leaving home to find heat | Daily News Byte

A UK cost-of-living crisis has people leaving home to find heat

 | Daily News Byte



Burnley, England – “Want a brew?” asked the priest in dark sunglasses as he handed her a cup of tea. That is the only question before those who wander into their churches in the north of England. But many tell their stories anyway, revealing in vivid detail what Britain’s “living crisis” really means for those living through the worst of it.

“The other day a woman, she put her arms around me, cried, because we put some heat on her,” said the pastor, Mick Fleming, who manages the church and the involved church on the street charity to be Jim. He has heard of people hoarding candles and blankets, refusing to turn on their heat or skipping meals.

Fleming, 56, has an interesting story of her own. He is a former drug dealer turned priest. They have been working to help lift people out of poverty for more than a decade. He says the need has suddenly become more acute.

Fleming is based in the hardscrabble town of Burnley, which has the infamous distinction of having the highest cost of living among Britain’s cities and towns, in terms of historical inflation.

National inflation is at 10.7 percent, near a 40-year high, according to data released Wednesday. But because of income inequality, there is a north-south geographic divide in how food, fuel and energy costs are rising. Many cities in Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland have been hit harder than southern England.

In Burnley – with a population of 90,000 and about an hour’s drive north of Manchester – inflation is estimated at 12.4 per cent, according to the Center for Cities think tank. At the same time, Burnley gets the worst ranking for cost of living because wages here are lower than in most cities, its car-dependent residents spend a lot on gasoline, and three-quarters of homes have poor energy-efficiency ratings.

It’s expensive to heat drafty, poorly-insulated homes – as was particularly evident this week, when a dusting of snow blanketed much of Britain and temperatures dropped below freezing.

In a land of cold, architecture is tested by heat

Rising costs drive more and more people to seek the help offered by Fleming’s church: a place to warm up, hot meals, hot showers, secondhand clothes, laundry services.

“We’ve had double the number of people coming in,” Fleming said. Meanwhile, the church’s own energy bills have doubled in the past year.

About 200 people were there when The Washington Post visited around lunchtime on a recent day.

“I need heating to keep me warm,” said Mandy Cook, 48, who was having a slice of apple pie with a half-dozen locals, discussing the news of a toddler who died from exposure to mold.

“You shouldn’t be wearing your jacket in your own home — that’s wrong,” Cook said, noting she’s dealing with a respiratory illness.

Britain relies heavily on natural gas to heat homes — 85 percent is heated by gas boilers — and to generate electricity. The government is subsidizing energy bills this winter, which cushions the impact of higher gas prices. But the average household’s monthly energy bill is still about $260 — double what people were paying on average a year ago. The monthly figure is expected to rise further in April, while Some subsidies expire.

Those on prepayment meters, who have to pay for their energy in advance because their landlords insist on it or because of previous debts, usually pay even higher rates.

Ashley Davidson, 32, a barber in Burnley, said she had taken drastic measures to help with her bills. Two months ago, he moved into an RV, which is heated by a wood-burning stove. “It’s cheap, and you can wake up in a new place every day,” he said. On the downside, he said, “you can wake up freezing cold.”

Davidson, who volunteers his haircutting services once a week at Fleming’s church, said energy bills are a constant theme of conversation with paying and non-paying customers alike.

“People have been beaten hard; It is a city of low employment,” he said.

In its heyday, in the 19th century, Burnley was one of the world’s most important centers for cotton weaving. Today, it is a working-class town arguably best known for Burnley Football Club.

David Allen, 62, a mental health counselor who works at the church, said he tried to cut costs by heating only one room at home, wearing a jacket inside and using hot water bottles. He visits the local library because it’s warm and has free internet, he said, and he sometimes detours to the food bank.

“I have to be careful with money,” he said. “The working people are becoming the new poor.”

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank, reports that Britain is facing its tightest living-standards squeeze in a generation. The “toxic combination” of 15 years of income stagnation and rising inequality since the 1990s means that middle-income households in Britain are now poorer. 8,800 lbs ($10,810) than the average of their counterparts in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

The British government says it has made efforts to protect the most vulnerable in society, and officials note that while inflation currently outstrips benefits and pensions, they are readjusted each spring.

But others object that the country does not seem to be in a strong position when National Health Service doctors have to prescribe heating to help people with illnesses that worsen in the cold, and when local governments have to declare “warm banks”. Can be hot. The Post visited several such locations in Burnley, including a community center and an empty theatre.

Experimental Treatment for Chronic Illness in Winter: Paying for Heating Bills

Fleming, the pastor, said there must be a larger “society and government” response to the crisis, “as opposed to relying on an aging priest with a hood and sunglasses.”

Earlier this year, two government-funded mental health nurses joined their Church on the Street team. But he said more is needed to help lift people out of poverty.

He then turned his attention to a man in his 30s who had just attended church for the first time.

“Want a brew?” Fleming asked.


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