Getting through the cost of living crisis

As the colder weather arrives, the reality of rising costs is hitting home for families and businesses across the country. While we struggle to pay the bills, are we paying attention to the impact it's having on our mental health and wellbeing?

It’s fair to say that most of us have been feeling the pinch this year with the increase in regular outgoings from petrol to food, clothing and energy bills as the UK deals with the cost of living crisis. 

Rising global energy prices, the war in Ukraine, and the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to the current situation. In October, the Bank of England announced that the inflation rate was just over 10%, much higher than the target of 2% and largely driven by energy prices.

In September, the government outlined its plans for an energy scheme to help households, businesses and organisations this winter. This included the typical household saving an average of £1,000 a year on their energy bills, in addition to a £400 discount, and businesses and organisations in the public sector receiving equivalent support.

This felt like a huge relief to millions, but reality hit and people - many who were used to living a relatively comfortable lifestyle - were still left worrying about how they are going to pay their bills, buy food and be able to afford occasional treats for themselves and their families. Added to that, some of the initial guarantees were then overturned by new Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, who announced in October that the Energy Price Guarantee would only last until April 2023.

In September, the Office for National Statistics canvassed nearly 5,000 households in Great Britain and found that 44% of adults who were responsible for energy bills and 28% responsible for mortgage or rent costs were finding it ‘very or somewhat difficult’ to make the payments. Among adults who were working, 15% had reported carrying out more hours than usual, while 4% had taken a second job.

A person using a smart meter to monitor energy use

The voluntary services working hard to support the community

At the forefront of efforts to support those struggling is our voluntary community sector, which supports the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable communities, offering advice, and ensuring the 23 food banks across Derbyshire are running smoothly. However, it has limitations due to a lack of resource, which will only increase as more people need support and funding is even less prevalent.

“I think the crisis will have a huge impact on people’s lives and make life much harder for many people,” says Jenny Raschbauer, Project Director, Community Chesterfield/Derbyshire Voluntary Action. “It would be nice to believe that, as with the pandemic, communities will become stronger; but this resilience is incredibly hard to maintain when there are constant pressures and demands on people and just being able to afford the basics is hard for so many.”

Derbyshire Voluntary Action supports community and voluntary sector organisations across Derbyshire and Chesterfield, with the Feeling Connected project team doing fantastic work at a grass roots level to connect and empower individuals and bring people together to support one another.

Jenny adds: “In Chesterfield and across Derbyshire, everyone is doing their best to support communities whether that is through the vibrant and thriving voluntary and community sector or through other services. Derbyshire Voluntary Action works with over 300 voluntary organisations throughout the region to help them to invest in the health and wellbeing of their communities and use funding to grow and support the local voluntary and community sector.”

Portrait image of Jenny Raschbauer

Everyone is doing their best to support communities whether that is through the vibrant and thriving voluntary and community sector or through other services.

Jennifer Raschbauer
Project Director, Community Chesterfield/Derbyshire Voluntary Action

Looking after our mental health and wellbeing

Choosing between putting on the heating or eating shouldn’t be a reality, but for many it is, and research has shown that the cost of living crisis is having a significant impact on the mental health of the UK population, with people having to make difficult decisions about what they choose to pay for. 

In a study by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 66% of therapists said the cost of living concerns are causing a decline in people's mental health. Their research also highlighted some of the mental health issues that have worsened, such as insomnia, with therapists reporting clients are losing sleep due to money worries.

Many people already struggle at this time of year as the clocks go back and nights get longer. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly known as the winter blues, is likely to be exacerbated by the current crisis. 

“It is important in these situations that you don’t bottle up your feelings, as over time, this can have an impact on your emotional health,” says Dr William Van Gordon, Associate Professor in Contemplative Psychology at the University of Derby. “You could incorporate some mindfulness exercises into your day-to-day life. You don’t have to deal with it on your own and you may feel better talking to someone. This could be sharing your concerns with a friend or family member who you can trust, but if it’s too close to home, professional support is also available through local services.”

The mental health charity Mind has some tips on how to address winter blues; these include spending time in nature if possible, or sitting near a window during the daytime to make the most of natural light. They also recommend talking to someone – that might be a friend or family member, or an organisation such as the Samaritans, SANEline, or the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Students hit by the difficult times too

It’s not just families and businesses who have been feeling the strain. Analysis from Universities UK shows that most government measures designed to alleviate cost of living pressures are unlikely to reach the vast majority of students, as they are targeted towards those on means-tested benefits, pensioners and families.     

This means universities across the country are seeing a rise in the number of students approaching Student Services for financial support. The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has had a significant impact on student finances as many students have seen either a reduction in their income or loss of work altogether. 

Sarah Richardson, Head of Student Services at the University of Derby, says:

“These are clearly difficult times for students and will potentially continue to worsen over the coming months. This will be particularly challenging for those from low-income backgrounds, with caring responsibilities, or estranged from families.

“We encourage any student that may find themselves in difficulty, to look into the options that are available so that we can find the right support for them. At Derby, we have already stepped up our efforts to support students by providing hardship funding where it is needed the most, budget management guidance and increased wellbeing and mental health support.”

The University of Derby also has an experienced Student Services team that provide confidential support to all students, as well as applicants, for a range of areas including anxiety, depression and mental health concerns. 

Sarah explains: “We have ensured additional mental health support is available for our students during their time with us. We encourage any student who finds themselves in difficulty to seek practical advice and guidance from Student Services.”

A brighter future?

While the future may not currently seem bright, it’s important to remain positive and access the support that’s available, as whatever stage of life we are at, getting through the tough times together will help us all.

Jenny offers the following advice: “If you need help, reach out, there is nearly always support out there if you ask for help from your communities. Mark Twain once said that ‘the best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up’, and although times are tough, let’s all play our part to help those around us, even if it is just by trying to make someone smile.”

You can support your local voluntary and community organisations, whether through making a donation, following them on social media, promoting them, or even volunteering. For more information, you can visit the Feeling Connected website. Derby City Council has also created a website for the community that has a range of information that may help with the cost of living. 

Written by Iesha Thomas