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Struggling Britain: How rising costs ‘nightmare’ is pushing three families to the brink

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Sky News is following the lives of three families who all face a difficult winter ahead. With energy and food bills rising, they say they are dreading the next few months.

Jackie & Jason

Jackie lives with her partner Jason and their three children – Skyler, seven, Kayde, six, and four-year-old Marshall.

She was working several jobs before the pandemic hit, but had to leave work to care for her terminally-ill mother.

Jackie is now keeping a close eye on how much electricity and gas she’s using since prices went up earlier in the week.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, raised the price cap so that companies could charge their customers more. It’s an emergency measure in light of the global surge in demand for gas.

Jackie has a meter in the kitchen and it’s flashing to show that she’s now in her emergency supply.

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“Everything’s going up,” she said.

“The cost of living, the gas, the electric, food. I’m already feeling it.”

She’s not alone. Gas and electricity is going up for 15 million families as the cap on their tariffs rises.

The cooker has been broken for a year so meals have been made using one hob.

Jackie and Jason have applied for a grant from the local council in the hope that they can buy a new one.

“It’s not just the pandemic. It’s everything,” said Jackie.

“I lost my job and it has been horrendous. It’s been really frustrating. It’s hard work living in poverty. I was poor before the pandemic. Nothing changed. Nothing’s going to change.

Helen says the end of he Universal Credit uplift is like someone's burst her life jacket
Image: Helen says the end of he Universal Credit uplift is like someone’s burst her life jacket

Helen & Freya

Helen is a postwoman and lives just outside Bristol with her eight-year-old daughter, Freya.

She relies on Universal Credit and is losing £20 per week now the government has ended the uplift that began at the start of the pandemic.

The government has promised to increase access to well-paid jobs and support people to improve their skills as part of the levelling up agenda.

Helen said: “I’m qualified. I’ve got skills. But find me this job that’s going to jump me that high that I can suddenly come off Universal Credit.

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Who will be affected by Universal Credit cut?

“I’ve looked at it. I’ve got to be taking home quite a substantial amount of money and I don’t know where these jobs are.

“The government says they are cutting the Universal Credit uplift so that they can create more jobs. What are these jobs? What are these skills?

“I was already struggling before the pandemic trying to keep on top of things.

“The uplift was actually like someone chucking me a life jacket. I was really pleased that we could kind of bob along and just get by. It feels like someone’s kind of burst that jacket.”

An administrative mistake meant Roberts benefits were stopped
Image: An administrative mistake meant Roberts benefits were stopped

Robert & Laura

Robert, Laura, and their two children – Dylan, three, and Lacey-Jane, one – are heading into winter with bills piling up around them.

Robert’s part-time work as a security guard has dried up and a mix-up with their benefits payments, through no fault of their own, has left them penniless.

They are behind on their rent and energy bills and are growing more reliant on food parcels as the weeks go on.

Robert said: “It has been a nightmare, an utter nightmare. I’ve been struggling to try and sort the situation. We’re just trying to keep it together for the kids.

“I’m doing my best just to keep my calm and just take every day as it comes and not get stressed. But it’s hard.

The family is being helped by Citizens Advice Derbyshire.

“Robert and his family are in a dire situation going into these winter months. They have lost four weeks of their tax credit money and it wasn’t their fault,” said adviser Ghazala Darr.

“They’re in rent arrears and they can’t afford to buy food or heat their home. The energy costs rise will be a major issue for them.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our Plan for Jobs will deliver more high wage, high skilled jobs across every part of the UK and ultimately support people back into work as well as helping those already employed to progress and earn more.

“The Energy Price Cap will remain in place to protect millions of customers from sudden increases, vulnerable households across the country will be able to access a new £500m fund to help them with essentials over the coming months and Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support.”