“It’s soul destroying” Essex father of three on #TheBigSqueeze

As the energy fuel cap is lifted, we talk to a local family feeling the pinch

Credit: Colin Nickless

This story was originally published on Greatest Hits Radio

Families across Essex are facing a huge hike in their energy bills from 1st April, as the energy price cap is going up.

This means a typical fuel bill will rise by around £700 this year, with a chance prices could increase again in October.

For most people, the energy you use this morning will cost 54 per cent more than it did yesterday.

These increasing prices, combined with rising food and petrol costs, and low, or no, pay increases will see a squeeze on incomes, and many families are likely to experience difficult financial times.

We’ve been speaking to a local family, the Nickless’ to find out how they’re coping with #TheBigSqueeze.

Colin Nickless lives in Southend on Sea with his wife, Jessica, two of their three children, and their pet dogs.

Their third child lives in a residential school for disabled children, where she receives suitable care for autism and cystic fibrosis.

Colin works nights as a carer for people with Dementia, whilst his wife works at a call centre.

Like many in the county, they’ve been feeling #TheBigSqueeze.

Energy Bills

Like most, Colin says his energy bills have shot up: “Before we were having direct debits that were just below £150 a month, then they wrote to us and said they were putting our bills up to £217 a month.

“They then wrote to us again and said it still wasn’t enough and that our bills would be increasing to £375 pounds a month…

“The cost of heating our home and providing energy is now £4500 a year – that’s a huge amount.”

He says the steep increase has caused them to think really carefully about how and when to use their energy, and when they can avoid using it: “We don’t heat the house as much, only really when the kids are home.

“Even then when they’re at home, we’ll only heat certain areas of the house, or we’ll sit under duvets in the living room, because any heating you have on, you’re very aware that that’s cash flying out of the window.”

Making tough choices like these is having a real impact: “It’s soul destroying. You don’t want to be existing just to pay bills but that’s what it feels like for a lot of people.

“You’re denying a lot of things which are really a basic human right. If you look at things like government legislation, they say you have the right to a warm home, so if you can’t afford to have a warm home, that’s a basic human right that’s being cut.”

The Nickless family’s dogs sitting on a duvet they keep in the living room for cold evenings

Other Price Rises

Nine out of 10 people in the East of England say they’ve noticed an increase in the cost of the weekly shop.

Alongside rising energy bills, The Nickless family are being affected by rising fuel and food costs too: “I wouldn’t say we’re one of those families that sits down with a spreadsheet or anything, but we do notice when prices increase.

“We’ve really felt the squeeze over the last six months.”

Colin says the recent increase in the cost of fuel, which saw prices rise to £1.73/litre for diesel and £1.63/litre for petrol, had a big impact: “My daughter’s in a special residential school for disabled children which is 109 miles away.

“We haven’t been able to go and see her as much… when the cost of filling up has gone from £70 to £100 or £120.”Petrol pumpCredit: Unsplash

They’ve also noticed shopping is more expensive than it once was: “At the supermarket you can really see how products have started getting more expensive, or they do the thing where the product’s shrunk but still the same price.

“It’s a lot of stealth increases and they’re really starting to hit home.”

They do their best to combat rocketing prices, but Colin says there’s a limit to what they can do: “We’ve always tried to be a bit savvy with our shopping. We’re part of a local food club which collects things that are going to go out of date, or which are overstocked by supermarkets, and then offers special deals, like where you pay £3 a week to get £10 worth of food.

“We also always look for Lidl’s £1.50 veg box, but there’s only so much you can do really, and it will only stretch so far.”

He says recommendations to stop unnecessary spending are not useful to his family, or others in similar conditions: “It’s very difficult because you can only cut so much from a budget.

“There’s no luxuries to cut from these budgets, people are back to the bare bones already.”

They’ve also noticed shopping is more expensive than it once was: “At the supermarket you can really see how products have started getting more expensive, or they do the thing where the product’s shrunk but still the same price.

“It’s a lot of stealth increases and they’re really starting to hit home.”

They do their best to combat rocketing prices, but Colin says there’s a limit to what they can do: “We’ve always tried to be a bit savvy with our shopping. We’re part of a local food club which collects things that are going to go out of date, or which are overstocked by supermarkets, and then offers special deals, like where you pay £3 a week to get £10 worth of food.

“We also always look for Lidl’s £1.50 veg box, but there’s only so much you can do really, and it will only stretch so far.”

He says recommendations to stop unnecessary spending are not useful to his family, or others in similar conditions: “It’s very difficult because you can only cut so much from a budget.

“There’s no luxuries to cut from these budgets, people are back to the bare bones already.”

Colin Nickless

Support

The government have announced some support to help those affected by the big squeeze.

If you pay council tax on a house in Bands A to D, you’ll get a £150 refund to part-cover the rising costs,

There’ll also be a £200 pound deduction on your energy bill this year – crucially, though, you’ll have to that pay back over the following five years.

However, families like the Nickless’ say this isn’t enough.

Colin would like to see the government do more: “If you want to look after the people in your country, you have to increase wages at some point.

“Inflation is going to keep going up, the cost of living is going to keep going up, and if you don’t, we’ll get to the point where people just can’t afford to live.”

If you’re struggling with the big squeeze, click here for advice.

Why does everything cost so much?

The government say global supply chains, and the uncertainty cause by war in Ukraine is responsible for the cost of living increase.

Inflation is the measure by which we record how much prices are rising across the UK.

At the moment, it’s just over 6%, so something that cost £1 last year will now cost £1.06.

It’s thought it could hit close to 9% later this year.

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