As consumers brace themselves for price increases to their household bills and national insurance contributions that begin today, many have termed it “Bleak Friday”.
While last week’s sunshine may have already faded, the UK’s weather outlook isn’t the reason that today, 1 April, is being termed “Bleak Friday” by many.
Instead, it marks the date pre-announced price rises for many household bills take effect amid a worsening cost of living crisis.
Consumers had been warned to expect steep hikes of 54% to their energy bills, with council tax, water bills and broadband services all increasing. Car tax is also set to rise from today for some, along with VAT for hospitality, which could push the prices of beer and other beverages up.
Millions of people across the country will now feel the impact of an unprecedented £700-a-year rise in energy costs, with new official figures suggesting four in 10 bill payers have been finding it very, or somewhat, difficult to afford their energy costs.
Even before the latest increases, charity Citizens Advice said that in March it referred 24,752 people to food banks or to other charitable support, up by 44% compared to the same month last year.
Prices in general are rising at their fastest rate for 30 years, One estimate suggests that from today, a typical consumer is now facing a £73 a month increase in bills, of which about £58 is from rising energy costs.
In its spring statement, the government said it was taking “decisive action” to help people with the cost of living, announcing a £200 reduction to energy bills in October – which needs to be paid back in instalments – and a £150 reduction in council tax bills for 80% of bill payers.
However, people have continued to turn to financial advice and “hacks” to help mitigate the increased cost of living.
Yesterday, the websites of UK energy suppliers crashed as people rushed to submit meter readings in response to advice from Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis to ensure they got a cheaper rate for energy right up until the end of the day. However, he ensured worried consumers that readings could still be sent in the days after the change.
In response to the hikes, anti-poverty campaigner and food writer Jack Monroe took to Twitter to express her frustration at “the lack of compassion and accountability shown by those who made this happen and have the power to stop it, but are choosing not to.”
She wrote: “I’ve been doing this for a decade now and have never known the scale of sheer desperation and terror that is bombarding my inboxes daily from people worried they can’t survive this crisis.
“That’s not an exaggeration; people with disabilities, people on Universal Credit, people on low wages and zero-hour contracts and underemployed in insecure part-time jobs, people living alone, elderly people, all literally petrified about their immediate futures.”
“In what world is it down to me, a poverty and trauma survivor, to go on national TV and tell a desperate nation ‘I’m sorry there’s not much else you can possibly do.’ Why is it me and Martin Lewis, not Boris and Rishi, left to answer the awful calls from frightened starving citizens?”
While the outlook certainly is bleak, the news that the government’s “national living wage” has gone up by 59p an hour to £9.50 for workers aged 23 and over will come as a slight comfort to some, equaling a 6.6% increase that equates to around £1,000 a year.
However, energy-saving tricks, cheap food hacks and small mercies won’t be enough to help the millions set to struggle throughout the next few months.
“The chancellor’s choices at the spring statement will force more people to go without the essentials. That’s simply wrong,” wrote Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“At the very least, benefits should rise in line with actual inflation. More broadly we must strengthen social security so people aren’t exposed to shocks.”