‘Energy or rent?’ Britons expect rising hardship after Sunak’s spring statement

‘The fuel duty cut is welcome’

“The fuel duty cut is welcome but there’s not really anything else,” said 61-year-old Susan Lee, from Bath, who retired early on medical grounds. “I wasn’t asking for anything extra, just for benefits to have parity with inflation, but we haven’t even got that.”

Lee, who worked as a nurse for 34 years, developed rheumatoid arthritis and now suffers from nerve damage in both her legs. She said there was a “flicker of hope that something would be announced but there’s absolutely nothing”.

Her income is made up of three monthly payments: £390 for her NHS pension for ill health retirement, £350 for Pip and £450 for ESA. She has a Motability car which “is her “legs” but she has had to ration essential journeys owing to high fuel prices.

The “biggest impact” of the cost of living crisis for her has been losing her carer. “She used to come in for around two hours a week for £22.50 per hour but I had to stop her coming altogether in February following the chancellor’s announcement about energy bills,” said Lee. “This crisis means having to make real life decisions. I’ve economised wherever and however I can but later in the year I’m going to have to decide which one I pay for – energy or rent?”

‘It’s endless disappointment’

Emily Pritchard
Emily Pritchard, from Oxford, is unsure when she will be able to move out of her parents’.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” said Emily Pritchard, a 25-year-old bookseller living in Oxford, who moved back to her parents’ home about a year ago following a breakup. “The fuel duty cut doesn’t affect me and others who don’t have cars, and the income tax which is coming in 2024 – I don’t see how that’s helpful to anyone when people are struggling now. It’s just endless disappointment.”

Although she had only planned to stay with her parents for six months, she is now unsure when she will leave. Her uncertainty about moving out has partly been fuelled by the rising energy costs and the broader cost of living crisis. “I was planning to stay for maybe six months and use it as a jumping-off point into the next stage of my life, but instead it has become the next stage of my life,” Pritchard says.

She says she’d be more likely to have moved out if she were on a higher salary, and explains that if she was living in a flatshare money would be tight. At the moment, she doesn’t “quite run out of money by the end of the month”. “It’s fairly close, but [I don’t] have to really worry about it in the same way.”

Pritchard, who contributes money for food and bills to her parents, did not expect to be living at home in her mid-20s. “I do feel some shame and embarrassment about living at my parents’, but the actual circumstances work pretty well for all of us, for now.”

‘The cut to national insurance will help’

Paul Aspinall at Ladybower reservoir in Derbyshire.
Paul Aspinall, at Ladybower reservoir in Derbyshire, has seen his energy bills rise 44% this year.

Retired electrician and accountant Paul Aspinall is also “very disappointed” by the spring statement. “The fuel duty cut only takes off around £4 when filling up,” said the 67-year-old from South Staffordshire. “If I have a pint once a week that’s gone – or even buying a few packets of pasta.

“Increasing the national insurance threshold will help but maybe the money could’ve been used for those on the lowest end of the pay scale. And the income tax rise isn’t even worth talking about when it’s two years down the line.”

His income is about £1,500 a month, which includes his state pension, a private pension and a small income from a bungalow which he rents out. Aspinall said he’s noticed that prices for everything from food to energy have gone up quite a bit. “A jar of Bovril two months ago was £3.50 but now it’s £4.”

“Energy costs are phenomenal,” Aspinall added. As a dual-fuel customer with Octopus Energy, he paid £106.22 a month in January with his payment for February rising to £153.09 – an increase of 44% – when his tariff changed due to his fixed-term contract coming to an end in February.

“I don’t have the heating on for as long as I used to and I definitely wear more layers,” he said. “Life is not miserable and I see it as a bit of a challenge. I’m not giving in to it.”

‘I expect nothing from the government’

Julie Kitchen
Julie Kitchen, from the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, was hoping Sunak would ‘bite into the energy companies’.

For 67-year-old Julie Kitchen, who lives in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, the statement was “very minor” and “rubbish”. “If you’re not a pensioner who drives, there’s nothing for you,” she said.

“I was hoping he would bite into the energy companies but he hasn’t, and to not do anything with pension credit seems to give pensioners the message that they should just join the food bank queue.” In terms of the cut to VAT for energy-efficiency measures, Kitchen added: “I don’t think I could be any more energy efficient! At my time of life I’m not going to spend a huge amount of money putting in solar panels on my roof because I will never reap the benefits.”

A retired information manager, Kitchen now lives off her state pension of £816 a month, a private pension of £389 a month and savings. One of her main expenses is travel – because of her rural location she drives when she has to. “Since Covid I haven’t been going out as much but I do like to occasionally go to Cardiff which is about 24-mile round trip. Public transport is terrible here – we only have one bus service which goes to Cardiff airport. There used to be an airport service which would take you into the city, which all the pensioners used to dive on, but that’s stopped now due to Covid.”

Kitchen’s main concern is the cost of energy, which she said is a “biggie”. “I’ve been piling clothes on and wearing blankets but it’s starting to get silly. Financially, I’m fairly comfortable but it’s scary with energy prices at the moment. You used to be able to get good deals but now you can’t even do that.”

‘I don’t feel like anything’s changed since yesterday’

Clare Evans
Clare Evans, 38, an NHS community worker from Rossendale, Lancashire, says ‘the question is are we helping the right people’. Photograph: Clare Evans

Clare Evans, 38, a community worker with people with learning disabilities, said the spring statement was “no big surprise”.

“I’m not going to complain about anything that benefits me, like the fuel duty cut or the national insurance threshold rise, however small. All those pennies add up. I’m very lucky I’ve got a good wage and I’m not in dire straits at the moment, but I work and support people who are, and I can’t see how any of this meaningfully helps them.

“It’s very hard not to take it personally. We all know a lot about Rishi Sunak, his family and how wealthy they are. It smarts a little bit. I don’t really feel like anything’s changed since yesterday, but I guess I didn’t expect it to either.”

Clare said she’s most worried about the people she meets through her work, most of whom live on disability benefits. “We can manage, but the individuals that I work with, they’re making those decisions about whether it’s warmth or food or access to transport. They’re having to limit everything that they’re doing. We can’t help everybody, but the question is are we helping the right people, because it doesn’t always feel like that.”