I skip meals to feed my kids and stay up at night worrying about energy bills
AFTER more than a decade as a carer, Fatou, 36, a single mother, survives on as little as a banana a day and is ashamed of being hopeless.
After the bills, Fatou and her son, who live in Sunbury-on-Thames, have just £20 a week to live on and that needs to cover her food, petrol and any unexpected costs.
With inflation at 10% and set to soar to 18%, even supermarket staples have jumped in price so even food is now a luxury.
“Sometimes I feel pushed to extremes,” she said, “if it wasn’t for my son, I might do something stupid, like try to kill myself.”
Every Monday morning, Fatou breaks an egg into a bowl, measures flour and milk and beats it into a pancake mix.
It will be 10-year-old Ali’s breakfast and he will have to stretch until Wednesday.
She adds: “Everything has increased. Eggs have gone from 70p to 90p for six and I need to make this box last for the week. I measure everything”.
“Of course, I miss meals. I got used to it. If I eat a banana in the morning, it will last me all day until dinner. As long as Ali has food, I’m fine.
Fatou says she is too scared to open her own post for fear of receiving threatening letters.
Her energy supplier referred her to a debt collection agency when her energy bills more than doubled and she couldn’t pay the £123 she owed quickly enough.
Fatou’s electricity tariff rose from £32 per month to £89 per month in May. Gas costs up to £76 from £40.
“It’s so scary,” she said. “The costs are unbearable. I know it’s their business but the energy companies have to put themselves in our place”.
For one of her two jobs, Fatou earns £15 an hour helping an autistic woman in Surrey. “I love helping people,” she said, “often they are very sad and helpless, I make them happy.”
Unfortunately, the cost of living crisis is affecting her son’s education.
Fuel costs – which hit £1.91 a liter this summer – for work and for taking Ali to school have cost Fatou £40 a week. But some days she just can’t afford the gas to drive it.
“I told school he was sick because I was embarrassed to tell them the real reason,” she said.
Money experts suggest paying bills by direct debit as soon as we get paid. Fatou does, but recent price hikes have shattered her cautious financial plans.
“I think about money all the time,” she says, “but I have to be strong because my son needs me.”
Britain’s army of thousands of hard-working care workers is being pushed to the brink by the soaring cost of living, the Care Workers Charity has said.
The government will give each household a £400 reduction on their electricity bill, starting in installments in October, under the Energy Bill Support Scheme.
But the charity has written to the big six energy companies urging them to donate part of their billions of pounds in profits to support care workers who are struggling to pay their bills now.
Karonlina Gerlich, CEO of Care Workers Charity, said: “Care workers either go to work hungry or can’t afford to pay their bills or feed their children.”
“We cannot expect them to provide high quality care when they have to worry about meeting the basic needs of their families. The demand for help exceeds our funding.
The boss of Centrica, owner of British Gas, recently told The Sun that he would donate 10% of his profits to a fund to help his poorest customers pay their energy bills.
But food banks, borrowed money for petrol and the Care Workers Charity, which gave Fatou a £500 grant, were her lifeline when debt collectors came knocking.
The first thing Fatou did was pay what she owed and buy some food.
“The money made a really big difference,” she said, “I used it to buy enough food for a month at Costco, shelf-stable milk, anything that lasts a long time.
“It gave me peace of mind for a month. A month without a sleepless night.
The Care Workers Charity has launched a cost of living crisis campaign as part of a public appeal for donations.
Where to find help
£400 off government energy
An automatic payment of £400 paid to you in six installments from October 2022 that you won’t have to repay.
Residence tax refund
This is £150 for households in municipal tax bands A-D. Payment should be automatic, pursue your advice if this is not the case.
Subsidies for energy companies and government programs
For other government assistance programs including winter fuel payment, cold weather payment and warm house discount, go to the Ofgem website.
You will need to be referred with a voucher, which can be issued by schools, GPs and counseling agencies. Your local food bank can advise you.
Subsidies to help you repay your energy debts
In debt to your energy supplier? You can get a grant to help pay it back. Citizen Advice has a list of providers who offer grants.
Advice to citizens
You may be eligible for the Household Support Fund and cost of living payments. Details are on this page of the Citizen Advice site or call 0808 223 1133.