Today, Liz Truss becomes Prime Minister, facing the most serious cost of living crisis for 50 years. This seemed a good moment to test the views of our readers on the economic crisis. So a fortnight ago we invited you to complete a questionnaire. The results we report here are only a snapshot, but they do not show a happy or healthy society.
Three responses summed up the desperate state some people are reaching:
- “Only use central heating first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Use the gas fire in the living room during the day.”
- “I expect to reduce the care visits to my mother (93) as the distance is nearly 30 miles each way. Currently I visit twice a week at least, and this will have to reduce to once per week.”
- “Our lounge is cold in the winter as it’s north facing so we’re going to move the TV into the kitchen and sit in there in the evening.“
What are we worried about?
Overwhelmingly (85%) people were worried about paying their bills this winter, with energy costs by far the biggest cause for concern. Only a quarter said they would be able to afford their energy bills, and 46% were sure they could not. Over 90% were making reductions in their energy use.
Half were worried about food costs, and 40% were worried about transport costs, with two thirds using their cars less.
Three quarters of those with children or grandchildren reported that those children were worried
What are we doing about it?
We asked about what economies people were making. Three quarters were having fewer meals out or days out. Over half were buying fewer, or secondhand clothes, cancelling subscriptions, or cutting back on holidays.
Around a third were growing their own vegetables, putting off house moves/improvements, or replacing a car. Smaller numbers were working more hours, going vegetarian, using public transport more, insulating their homes or investigating alternative energy.
Several people were cycling or walking in place of the car. A few were investigating alternative energy sources. Many were turning off electrical appliances, including fridges and freezers, and doing washing less often. Other strategies included wearing more clothes, selling things, cycling in place of car, using unsecured credit, and giving up alcohol.
Several commented on the special problems of disabled people:
- “I am disabled and am already working as many hours as I can handle”
- “I am very worried because I am on a fixed disability pension”
- “I have stopped my cleaner (had one as I’m disabled & struggle to some household tasks)”
What do we think of politicians responses?
Only two respondents doubted that there will be hardship this winter, and almost 90% think that civil unrest is possible.
Nobody thought that Liz Truss had a good plan for the crisis, and only a handful of respondents thought that Rishi Sunak had one.
The pattern for Keir Starmer and Ed Davey is more positive (probably reflecting the political make up of our readership). A quarter think that Starmer has a good plan, and half chose “maybe”. The figures for Davey were 15% and 60%.
Respondents were invited to volunteer suggestions for government action. The responses clustered round five themes:
Smaller numbers mentioned insulation, reversing Brexit, and Universal Basic Income/Services.
A final question inviting “any other comments” unleashed more than 2000 words of unprompted views. Fear was perhaps the most common theme:
- “I am seriously worried. I will not be able to pay my bills or buy food as my wage has not increased since 2008. I hope it doesn’t get to it but I might just end my life.“
- “Simply put I’m scared, I work in hospitality and it’s not a good time. There is actual fear like I’ve never seen before. And it isn’t necessary as the government should have gotten involved more months ago.”
- “I am genuinely frightened. The people ’serving’ us in government are either clearly outstripped or devoid of any semblance of care and compassion for the consequences of all this. “
- “God help us all!”
Many blamed the government and/or the Conservative party, blaming ideology, self-interest or incompetence.
- ”All of this is by design”
- “This has been coming for several years. Nobody acted to stop or mitigate.”
- “This Government has unleashed full-scale war on its own citizens especially the vulnerable due to a broken and bankrupt ideology and an abject failure to properly regulate important utility markets, like water, energy etc. because Brexit is all consuming. “
- “We lack courageous politicians who will do what is required. It is scandalous that one of the wealthiest countries in the world is in this position. We have the means to resolve this, but our politicians (with a few exceptions) do not have the will.”
This government was elected on a promise to “take back control”. That is not how our respondents saw things:
- “I feel it is all out of my control, apart from doing my bit – which is a minimal contribution in the scheme of things.”
- “I am aware how fortunate I am to have a decent income and no dependents. I am seriously worried on behalf of the many millions who are not so fortunate.”
Several people looked at it from the perspective of disappointed older people (and the average age of our respondents was much higher than the general population):
- “Desperation that all the hope and belief I had in a better future when I was young (in the late 1960s and very early 1970s) has come to this.”
- “I am 63, a WASPI. my husband is 70 and will now have to continue working as a delivery driver 4 days a week instead of retire at the end of this year. We originally planned to retire together when he was 65. my husband has been working since he was 15 years old and I am thinking of going back to work if I can get a job. We will never retire at this rate.”
A number commented on international comparisons and asked why Britain is doing so much worse than our European neighbours. Some, unsurprisingly, blamed Brexit:
- “EU countries are not facing such colossal rises. The government need to bring essential services into public ownership.”
- “I am furious that this country is facing the worst outcome in comparison to other western countries because of the ideology and choices this Tory government has made over the last 12 years and in previous years.”
- “The energy crisis is hiding the bad effects of Brexit.”
One respondent highlighted the impact of the crisis on education:
- “I’m a Deputy Head teacher in a relatively deprived area of Cambs. I have so many concerns about how this crisis will affect our families who already struggle but I also worry about the impact on our school budget. We set budgets in April. After that we were then told that teachers and support staff will be given pay rise but no extra funding will be available from the government. Now we have the threat of the energy crisis. Many things we pay for and have planned to pay for from our budget (support for children’s mental health etc) will have to go. You can see that as the crisis hits families, they’ll rely on things like schools but we will have limited funds to support them. It’s a perfect storm and we’ve heard nothing from the Dep of Education. “
Some simply offered cries of despair:
- “God help us all”
This is only a snapshot of a few people in one region. But it is not a picture of a happy community. These are not the country’s poorest people, yet in one of the world’s richest nations, they are turning off heating, washing machines and freezers, putting on extra clothes and camping in their kitchens to save energy. Some are even contemplating suicide.
The steps people are taking to reduce spending will exacerbate a recession. The comments we received show people both frightened and angry. They believe they have been betrayed, and feel powerless to do anything about it.
Over the next few months we shall see whether a new Prime Minister is up to the job of turning this round.
About our questionnaire
Results from questionnaires like this should always be treated with caution. The sample is a small proportion of our readers, and only about half of those who viewed the invitation chose to respond. So they are probably not fully representative of our readers. But they do give us a view of how one group of, broadly progressive, people are thinking.
Our technology does not allow us to identify how far our readers, and the respondents to our questionnaire, match the regional population. Given the nature of our site, and the fact that this was an online questionnaire, it is likely that our readers are rather better educated, and more likely to be in professional occupations, than the general population. So one might expect them to be better able to face financial shocks. The results do not show a group of people confident about the future.
We published a short article inviting people to complete a short questionnaire. We issued it twice, with different titles to try to maximise responses. One hundred and sixty seven people viewed one or other of the articles. That represents around 3% of all views on the site during the fortnight the survey was open. Half of those who viewed the article completed the survey.
82% of our respondents were over 45, and 35% are over 65. There were rather more women (54%) than men (44%). They were mainly located in and around the main regional cities, with postcodes in Norwich, Ipswich, Cambridge and Chelmsford, but with a scattering of people from as far afield as Scotland and Surrey.
One respondent in five visits us “most days”, and a quarter do so once a week. The rest chose “occasionally”. Sixty percent come to us via Twitter, 15% through Facebook, and 10% go directly to the site.