Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on August 10, 2022.
How on earth are Thanet’s already hard-pressed families going to manage during the winter fuel and cost of living crisis?
Like many people, I imagine, I’m worrying about rising household costs, particularly rising fuel bills. I’m already planning how I can cut costs -which are now estimated to be £4,266 per year – as well as how I can better insulate my draughty old house and heat myself rather than the whole room in an effort to manage fuel costs.
Like most people, I’ve noticed a big increase in my food bill, and am making choices to reduce my costs. I’m also trying to minimise food waste as much as possible.
Every little helps they say!
As a County Councillor, a number of parents have contacted me, who are struggling right now, to feed and clothe their families. It’s been sometime since I myself had to buy school uniforms – but they are so expensive!
Because this is such a serious situation, and every prediction is that it’s going to get worse, I’ve decided to write to KCC leader Roger Gough, to see what action KCC is going to take to better look after Kent residents, particularly those already at the sharp end! We have some time to prepare, but many are worrying, struggling and suffering right now.
We need to do whatever we can to protect our most vulnerable residents, usually children, elders and those people with disabilities. I want to see warm public spaces opened up, perhaps schools and libraries. I think we need more wardens for the elderly, (we only have two to cover Thanet.) I’d also like to see a ‘moratorium’ on expensive school uniform so parents can spend their cash on fuel and food. Whilst sending their children to school in basic uniform.
Here’s what I’ve sent to KCC County Council leader, Roger Gough.
What plans are in hand, or what assessments are being made, to avoid the poorest in Kent, falling further into poverty and greater hardship and discomfort. I’m sure you, like myself, are anxious to prevent further hardship which could impact health.
A recent reports states that:
*Thirty-five million people in 13.5m households are under threat of fuel poverty in October – that’s an unprecedented 49.6% of the U.K.
*If nothing is done before another fuel price rise hits in January, the fuel poor could rise to 39m people in 15m households – 54% of the country.
*For the average family, one quarter of all costs after rent or mortgage are spent on fuel. But for poorer families it is 37% – and could rise beyond 50% of their income after October.
*We are now being alerted to an even steeper increase than anticipated. The latest prediction, based on Ofgem’s new methodology, is an 81% price cap rise in Oct (taking typical bill to £3,582/yr) and a further 19% in Jan (so £4,266/yr.) Eye watering and wallet defying as I’m sure you’ll agree?
We have as you know, many poor families and poorer pensioners in Thanet compared to the rest of Kent. Indeed, the Centre for Progressive Policy research states that coastal communities, like ours, are the areas likely to suffer most during the cost of living crisis. Their research shows that Thanet has more than 1 in 5 residents currently struggling with food bills, 1 in 10 struggling with fuel costs, and a growing child poverty rate of 34%.
Can you therefore outline for me,
*How are these families expected to budget as fuel and food costs rise?
*What additional provision can and should KCC make?
*For instance are there plans for easily accessible warm spaces to be made available?
*Can schools remain open during evening and weekends so our children can both study and relax in warmth? (Or other spaces?)
*Can we encourage schools to relax uniform policy, recognising that family budgets are stretched to the maximum?
*Will their be further funds from KCC or via KCC to help to supplement meagre, already stretched fuel and food budgets?
*Will KCC employ or otherwise secure additional wardens to ensure no older and vulnerable pensioners are left without support during this crisis?
I think time is of the essence. As we are enjoying warm weather at the moment it may seem inappropriate to raise the topic of cold homes. But with Thanet household budgets already stretched to maximum, there’s not a moment to be lost in planning now how to keep our residents warm, fed and safe. Ultimately lives will depend on it.
Cllr Karen Constantine.