How is the rising cost of living making you feel? When we asked readers the answers came flooding in, with “angry”, “stressed”, “dejected” and “scared” among the responses.
And is it any wonder? Households have already seen their finances stretched since the energy price cap increased in April. At the same time, the cost of fuel and food continues to rise.
Now, energy consultancy Cornwall Insight has forecasted that bills will soar to around £3,582 per year in October – up from £1,971 today – before hitting £4,266 in January.
“I am genuinely terrified of what this winter will look like,” Keri Rock, 34, who lives in Swanage, Dorset, tells HuffPost UK. “I have two young kids, and I feel like curling up in a ball and crying I am so stressed. I literally don’t know what to do.”
Rock was made redundant by her employer two weeks before starting maternity leave last year. She retrained and qualified as a health coach and child sleep consultant and is desperately trying to get her business off the ground before the next price hikes.
“I don’t know what we will do if I can’t,” she says. “My husband has a good job, but we can’t cover our bills. We are currently relying on family help to support us. It’s crazy. ”
Research from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – a research charity set up by Martin Lewis – has found 59% of UK adults say the cost of living crisis is having a negative impact on their mental health.
One in five say they have felt “unable to cope” due to rising costs – amounting to 11 million people across the country.
Therapist and Counselling Directory member Kirsty Taylor says there is “a definite shift in the therapy room at the moment” regarding how people talk about money.
“Whilst these will always be concerns on some level for many people, I am currently seeing a real rise in both the fear and the knock-on impact on everyday life choices,” she says.
“People are anxious, scared, angry, helpless, worried and feeling out of control.”
Almost a quarter of households are already in debt with their energy supplier following the April hike, owing £206 on average, according to research from the comparison site Uswitch. And psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo says the idea of owing money can be particularly detrimental to people’s mental health.
“I have had a huge increase in observations of people talking about money in general,” she says. “Psychologically, a lot of people really struggle with thinking about owing money. So even though a lot of utility companies let you break things down into small payments, for a lot of people that can be quite stressful in terms of having to keep track of it.”
As well as causing anxiety, the nervous anticipation ahead of the next energy price hike is fulling anger. The website for Enough Is Enough – a campaign group aiming to channel anger surrounding the cost-of-living crisis into action – reportedly crashed hours after launching on Monday, as “tens of thousands” rushed to sign up.
“I really worry that many small businesses in this country are going to go under."”
“I feel really angry about the energy price rises, and don’t feel the government is doing anywhere near enough to help,” Anna Cargan, 35, from Cumbria tells us.
“How can the big energy companies be allowed to post such huge profits while ordinary people are worrying about whether they’ll afford food and heating this winter?”
Cargan runs a business reselling children’s pre-loved clothes and says the cost of living is already having a knock-on effect on small businesses like hers.
“When people are so worried about energy, food and fuel prices, they aren’t spending on anything else. Our sales have dropped due to the cost of living increasing – many people are even viewing kids clothes as a luxury item now,” she says. “I really worry that many small businesses in this country are going to go under over the next year.”
While the cost of living increase will affect us all, the impact will no doubt be felt most acutely by those already on low incomes.
Food banks have already reported a surge in demand and research suggests the cost of living crisis is disproportionately impacting ethnically diverse groups and people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
Sarah Berthon, 47 and based in Ashford, Kent, offers coaching to business owners with chronic illnesses and also has a chronic illness herself. She says the rise in bills already means that she’s “having to make some difficult decisions around spending”.
“Already, having a chronic illness impacts us financially. Often, we’re not able to work a full time job and so our income takes a hit. Then we may have the cost of prescriptions, specialists (osteopaths, physios, dieticians etc), travel to hospital appointments plus special diets to take into account,” she says.
“We need to keep the house warm in winter as the cold can make chronic pain a lot worse. So, the question is, what is most important: keeping the house warm, paying to see specialists, eating the right diet, making sure that we’re still able to go to exercise classes, whether we should be investing in our business, whether we need to work more hours to the detriment of our health. It’s an incredibly worrying time.”
“There is little I can do.”
It’s frustrating for those like Joseph Seager, 36, from Lancashire, who runs the Thrifty Chap blog offering money saving tips. He says even with the best knowhow people will struggle.
“Energy prices skyrocketing from £1200 to £4200 in a year is unpayable and unsustainable for the majority of the nation. Where can we get another £3000 from when we’re already facing huge rises in food, petrol and general living?” he asks.
“I feel low about the situation. Glum, dejected. I have messages from people who are worried about how they will be able to pay the bills and there is little I can do.
“I am disappointed too, about the government seemingly being unbothered by the whole situation. It shouldn’t come down to churches to provide warm banks this winter, but it will and it’s sorrowful.”
What can you do to look after your mental health?
Joining campaign groups, writing to your MP and volunteering if you’re able to are all things that can help you to feel less helpless about rising bills. You should also seek professional financial advice about managing your bills.
Not everyone will be able to afford therapy right now and we all know NHS waiting lists are long. So in lieu of government intervention to solve the heart of the problem, we asked Dr Quinn-Cirillo and Taylor to share their advice for managing worries at home.
“The first thing is to acknowledge that this is a real issue for people and anxiety and anger are very normal responses,” Taylor says.
“Things feel out of control at the moment, which makes us want to control those things we can even more tightly. Take time each day to check in with how you are feeling. It can be useful to write down those thoughts and feelings that are dominant, as a way of acknowledging and allowing them space.
“Control what you can in terms of budgeting and planning things that don’t cost anything. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good, and ensure you try and exercise and switch off from everyday life by being outside.”
Dr Quinn-Cirillo adds that you should limit your use of social media and news reports that might be triggering. But above all, she advocates talking about it.
“Talk to people or the utility companies, the banks, they all have advisors who can help you if you’re struggling,” she says. “The worst thing you can do is sit on it. It feels vulnerable to reach out and talk about money, but the biggest advice I would give is that people reach out and that they talk it through.
“We’re all in the same boat. So try to make sense of that.”
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org