A big thank you to all 161 of our lovely readers who took part in our festive season survey! The results are interesting if anecdotal; let’s take a look.
First of all: you
One third of you are from Suffolk, many from Essex and Norfolk, and quite a few from Cambridgeshire.
Interestingly, nearly two thirds of respondents were women. Perhaps more of our readers are women, or maybe men are less keen to take surveys. Who knows? As we said, this is not a scientific survey!
Looking at the age demographic, the majority of respondents were from 45 to 74, with 41 percent being mid-50s to early 60s. This may point to those readers having more time to answer surveys. It’s highlighted that we may need to write more articles that would appeal to younger readers. Early in the new year, we’re planning to reach out to universities in the region to see if any students would be interested in writing for us. Other regional Bylines have done this with great success.
Almost a third of those who took part in the survey visit the East Anglia Bylines site more than once a week, which is pleasing as we do try to issue new articles every day. For a quarter of you, this was your first visit, and we sincerely hope you come back again!
Your thoughts about Christmas…
There was uncertainty about how the festive season will go. Less than a third of respondents expect Christmas to be better this year, a few expect worse, but well over half said they were unsure. Of course, the Omicron variant has spread widely recently which is affecting Christmas plans.
More than three quarters declared they would definitely take special Covid precautions at Christmas and only a few wouldn’t do anything extra. Most precautions involve cancelling visits or downsizing social events; avoiding crowded indoor places and doing more online shopping. Sadly, a few are cancelling family gatherings, avoiding the mistletoe and one or two will spend Christmas Day alone. Half the answers mention lateral flow testing. A few will forego the pub, shops and carol singing. It’s beginning to sound a lot like last Christmas. Much has happened in 2021, but I suspect few predicted last year we’d still be in the grip of the virus for another Christmas. Despite the lack of clear messages from government, many people are deciding what is safe and managing their own risk.
Christmas cards may be in slow decline. A third of participants will send fewer this year, with nearly two thirds sending the same. A small number will send more. With many people working from home and cancelling get-togethers, there’s less opportunity to give cards to colleagues and friends.
Only a handful of you reported difficulty finding gift items in the shops, with the majority saying they’d found what they wanted. A few people say it’s now too expensive to post gifts to the EU and some companies will no longer supply to Europe. Those who shop online report items out of stock, late delivery dates (some January) and extra taxes if from the EU.
As time goes on, companies might find difficulty restocking when they run out. There may be delays of toys, decorations, IT and other goods arriving through Felixstowe, but though most are from China, the delays will partly be caused by Brexit. Felixstowe has always been a direct stop destination for goods from China but delays at the port have meant many shipping lines are redirecting to alternative ports in Europe first. That means they are arriving here via the EU, so they have to face all the further delays and complications involved in the customs debacle.
…and next year
Again, many are hesitant to be optimistic. A third think their life will worsen next year, with only a quarter believing it will improve. The rest didn’t know. We live in uncertain times.
Shopping and bills
First, bills and prices. Nearly all of you had noticed price rises with a minority unsure. More than a third of those who’d noticed them had seen increases across the board. This is confirmed by the recent announcement that the UK inflation rate is now 5.1 percent: the highest for ten years. The causes include energy price rises being passed on; difficulties recruiting lorry drivers and hospitality staff (Brexit-related); and shortages of many goods pushing up prices.
Over two thirds had been informed by their energy supplier that fuel bills will rise. Half noted the cost of petrol or diesel had risen significantly, with one calling the last fill-up the most expensive ever. Other increases noticed were alcohol, clothes, rent, building materials and eating out. Everybody will be affected by something, however, the item that the vast majority reported, affecting everyone, was food…
Most complained that food is more expensive; mentions were made of bread, oil, cheese, fish, pet food, vinegar and porridge. However, most people weren’t specific, saying groceries in general were more pricey. The link between shortages and price increases is clear: ongoing supply issues will push costs up.
Inflationary price rises will be extremely difficult for those who’ve recently lost the Universal Credit uplift. It will also affect those who have to drive to work (or as part of their work, like home care assistants), and those on zero-hour contracts in, for example, hospitality, who are losing hours because of cancellations. Food banks will be busy.
Nearly three quarters of answers confirmed food shortages in shops, variously: less choice, whole shelves empty at a time covered with cardboard fillers, gaps disguised with more of one item on repeat, and low stock items varying every week with no discernible pattern. Item shortages specifically reported were crisps and snacks, pasta, tins, frozen goods, juice, milk, wine, cereal and meat.
Nobody mentioned turkey, however, which may help those planning a traditional dinner. But it’s worth checking the provenance of your meat. While pigs are culled here due to a shortage of butchers (only 50 of the 800 temporary visas(£) were taken up), EU pork is being imported. In addition, farmers are considering breeding fewer pigs in future to avoid having to cull them. One can only imagine this will necessitate more imports, which seems distressingly needless.
Overall, the most common shortages were fresh vegetables and fruit: aubergines, citrus fruit, avocados, green peppers and salad items in particular. These are probably EU-sourced and likely delayed by bureaucratic import issues. UK-grown veg were also missed, for example carrots, cauliflowers and broccoli, the supply of which is affected by a lack of pickers. Some farmers have planned to plant less next year to avoid crops rotting in the fields, so it’s likely to be an ongoing problem. And all food delivery is affected by the continuing lorry driver shortage.
There is some anxiety among our readers about the future, mainly for problems caused by general Brexit and Covid instability. This is echoed in recent national opinion polls. For example, with regard to the economy, an Ipsos MORI poll ‘found that 52 percent expect the economy to get worse over the next 12 months, double the 25 percent who think it will improve.’ One wonders whether if things had been handled differently over the last 22 months, we’d be in a more positive place. Also, one questions how much easier life would be if we hadn’t experienced Brexit at the same time as a pandemic. It’s beginning to feel like an endurance test and I’m sure most people are yearning for change.
What do you think of us?
We’ve just passed our fifth month anniversary. Our editorial team feel proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Judging by all the complimentary remarks, you think we’re doing well, too. Thank you for that. Many of you appreciate our focus on local issues and scrutiny of those in power. We’ll continue that focus, while increasing both our range of topics and our output over the course of 2022. While our name suggests we cover only East Anglia, we are happy to run stories from all the East of England region, which includes Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. So if you know people from those counties who might write for us, please ask them to get in touch! We are all volunteers, part of the regional Bylines Network, taking citizen journalism to new heights.
There are a number of ways to keep up with our articles. You can visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter, subscribe to our newsletter, or you can get regular Whatsapp updates of our articles (generally 1-2 daily – it’s a broadcast-only channel that doesn’t allow chat).
We sincerely hope that you all managed to have happy and healthy celebrations with your nearest and dearest, and that 2022 will be as positive as possible for you. Based upon recent experience, it’s impossible to predict the future, but you never know, something unexpected and hopeful could happen! Fingers crossed and best wishes to you all.