'I can't find anything else to cut back on'
In Part 1 of our series on why we’re marching on June 18, UniteLive investigates how pensioners are being slammed by cost of living crisis
As the worst cost of living crisis in generations ravages the UK, hitting millions of ordinary families from all walks of life, Unite is preparing to take the streets at the TUC’s national demonstration in London on June 18.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather for the protest and rally to send a clear message that we all are united in demanding better – and that ordinary people should not be forced to pay for a crisis not of their own making.
This week, in a special UniteLive series, we look at just how wide-reaching this unprecedented cost of living crisis is – no one is immune from record-breaking inflation rates that now already exceed an astonishing 11 per cent. As ever, those who can least afford it are bearing the biggest burden.
Millions of pensioners are among those who are being slammed by the current crisis. Their suffering was brought into sharp relief earlier this month when 77-year-old Elsie spoke out publicly about her plight.
Since the cost of living crisis first accelerated earlier this year, Elsie’s gas and electricity bill has surged from £17 to £85 a month – a 400 per cent increase. She can only afford one a meal a day now, and she shops only in the late afternoons when food items are discounted.
Her situation is so desperate that to keep warm she rides the bus all day using her pensioner’s freedom pass.
When asked on Good Morning Britain about Elsie’s plight, prime minister Boris Johnson’s answer was as callous as it was unsurprising – all he could do was boast about introducing the freedom bus pass.
Elsie’s story is far from an isolated one among pensioners. For Unite Community member and retired schoolteacher John Harrison, the cost of living crisis will translate into more pain – literally.
“I have a disability that involves chronic pain all over my body,” he explained. “The pain is there permanently but it’s aggravated by any contact, even clothing. When I’m at home, it’s absolutely vital to keep warm – otherwise the pain receptors kick in and I’m in constant pain.
“I use a lot more energy than most people because of my condition and I’ve cut back on literally everything else,” he said. “My biggest worry is that if the cost of living continues to increase, I’m really going to struggle finding anything else to cut back on.”
John fears that spiralling energy costs will force him to have to choose between a life of excruciating pain or making ends meet.
“At the moment I’ve got everything down to a fine art – I’ve got a strict bedtime and timers on to make sure that I maximise the benefit from the energy that I can afford to use,” he added. “When the pain kicks in I’ve essentially got to cocoon myself in bed and if it’s cold, it gets worse. Sleep doesn’t come easy.”
Although pensioner poverty has steadily declined since 2000, charity Age UK highlights that this trend is now reversing, with an estimated one in six pensioners now in poverty.
Exactly like those in work, the value of pensioners’ earnings are being swallowed whole by rising inflation. The state pension now is pegged to inflation rates from last September, which then stood at a mere 3.1 per cent.
The state pension will not be uprated again until next April, so pensioners now are being forced to contend with one of the highest inflation rates on record – the RPI rate of inflation now stands at 11.1 per cent.
Because the government last year suspended the triple lock on state pensions – which uprates pensions by either inflation, wage growth or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest — millions of pensioners lost out. According to the Telegraph, someone turning 66 this year will be an astonishing £13,209 worse off when they turn 85 because of the lower increases this year as a result of the suspended triple lock.
Just like workers and those claiming benefits, the government has abandoned pensioners by offering only one-off payments – instead of the sustained support that’s so desperately needed — to the millions who are facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis.
This is why Unite will be joining the tens of thousands of people who will march on June 18 to demand better. Something has to change because we deserve better than this. We didn’t create this crisis – we shouldn’t have to pay for it now.
Unite members and their families can book FREE Unite transport from all our regions to the TUC’s June 18 demonstration in London. You can find out more here.
By Hajera Blagg