The Complexity and Adversity Network was a programme of workshops for community nurses and midwives working in Primary Care in areas with high levels of poverty, deprivation and multimorbidity funded by The Burdett Trust for Nursing and QNIS.
As part of the programme, members of Chance 2 Change in Glasgow were invited to embark on a photography project in collaboration with Inclusive Images and Clydesider Creative Ltd. This group included Jenny Fulton from Drumchapel who now invites us to share in her experience of the cost-of-living crisis and how this affects her and her partner on a daily basis.
When people talk about cost-of-living, they talk about fuel poverty and food poverty, but what does that actually mean to the average person? I’ll give you all a little insight into my life in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis.
I get paid every fortnight on every second Tuesday. This has always made it difficult for me to plan and budget, two skills I’m learning again from scratch on my recovery journey. Currently I spend over a third of my benefits every fortnight on gas and electric. I spend over 35% of my benefits on fuel. They say if you spend over 10% of your money on fuel you’re living in fuel poverty, so what’s my situation then? And even though I pay over a third of my benefits to gas and electric I still spend around three days before I get paid with no heating or hot water at all. My gas runs out. Usually, my gas runs out on the Saturday night, and I am left until the Tuesday morning to cope without. This happens every single fortnight.
The effects on me are far reaching. I have chronic psoriasis, but not having hot water means I cannot clean my skin properly. I use boiled kettles, but it takes several to wash my skin fully. I need to wash at least twice a day to put all the creams and lotions on, no easy task. Even though I do try to keep up with this routine, whether I have hot water or not, the fact is that there is nothing more depressing or challenging than facing a freezing cold bathroom. Trying to be thorough with my skincare two or three times a day becomes impossible. My skin has been getting worse over winter and I am now battling daily infections, escalating pain, and weeping sores. I have had to be referred to dermatology, a prime example of how the increased cost of living directly impacts the NHS.
All those boiled kettles are only adding to my electricity bill. I also use the kettle to do dishes and to clean. It is continually impacting my mental health and wellbeing. To stay warm, I use a small electric fan heater in the living room. The heater is really expensive to run, so I am only willing to put it on for twenty minutes at a time. As soon as you put it off again, the room cools down. After just another twenty minutes it’s freezing again. My house is becoming cold, damp and very uninviting. Consider my circumstances; I am someone who has an unhoused mind* and I am trying to gain the tools and skills to create a home. This is not the environment for me to do this. I have lived this way before, but back then I had some understanding of why. My chronic addiction often saw me without heating, hot water and even electricity, but the need to feed my habit always took precedence. I am now more than three years clean and sober. I do not understand why, after all the changes I have made, I am still having to live like this now.
*An unhoused mind is where a person doesn’t have the skills, tools, or experience to create a home. They need a base to go to, where they feel settled and where they can relax and recuperate from the world. A person with an unhoused mind can struggle to create a place where they feel safe, somewhere they can find peace knowing it is their own personal space. I’m trying to change from a mindset that is constantly on high alert, often feeling vulnerable and unsafe, to one of being comfortable, relaxed and at peace. It’s a work in progress for me.
I hear people say that they cannot afford takeaways or to eat out because of the cost-of-living crisis. With over 35% of my benefits going on fuel, I am struggling to feed myself and my partner, Steph. I cannot afford a big shop for us every fortnight anymore. Like so many others, we can’t afford to buy healthy food, or even enough food for every day. With options limited, I have fallen into the very bad habit of shopping every day. Often, my partner and I meet after our days are done and count out how much money we have between us before deciding what we can afford to eat that night. This means I can’t plan meals. Increasingly we are depending on poor and unsubstantial meals. After waiting until 6.30 or 7pm at night just to see how much money you have, the last thing you want to do is go shopping or prepare dinner. Pot Noodles, cheap microwave dinners and beans on toast are becoming the norm for us. Steph and I spent many years hungry, choosing our habits over eating. It is too easy to slip back into old habits, going to bed hungry rather than facing the supermarkets at night with only pennies in your pocket. I take so much time as I go round the isles, feeling panicky and sick with anxiety, adding up the cost of my shopping as I go. The panic gets worse when I go through the tills. What if I have added it up wrong? What if I don’t have enough cash to cover my shopping? When this happens, I have to ask to put things back – something I find very distressing.
I’ll give you a typical scenario I faced a couple of weeks ago. I got home at 6pm. Steph and I put what money we had together, and it came to ten pounds. That cash was to buy dinners, snacks etc. for three days. We needed washing powder – a necessity, especially as my skin is so impacted trying to cope with the lack of washing amenities. We had also run out of salt. My partner is already naturally thin and because of the years he spent starving himself, choosing his addiction above feeding himself, he is on the tipping point of becoming extremely underweight. It may not seem important, or even healthy to some people, but I know that buying food and not having salt will just encourage him not to eat at all. Another thing we needed that week – washing up liquid. We only have four plates and four bowls, it’s enough for us but only as long as we can wash them. And lastly, we needed deodorant. With all those things we needed, the ten pounds went down to three pounds. Three pounds, to buy food, for three days. This doesn’t buy very much at all. When this happens, we end up buying Pot Noodles or cheap microwave meals, bread, beans, or soup. Or, and I admit this is happening more and more, we just don’t bother to source dinner at all. Feeling hungry going to bed, trying to get to sleep with an empty belly. I thought this was something I had put behind me.
My point is that it’s not just a lack of heating, hot water, or food that’s the issue, it’s the impact these things have on you. It’s the huge negative effect on my ability to keep myself and my partner healthy, both physically and mentally. Not being able to plan is really unsettling for us. We are unable to provide regular washing facilities or to buy decent food for preparing meals. Living without any care for our own welfare is a role that we could very easily slip back into, and in turn this could easily lead us back to a chaotic and unhealthy lifestyle. In the long term, these struggles will make us more vulnerable and more likely to go back to old ways of living, and old habits.
I am extremely fortunate to have an amazing team who support me. A team who carries me when I need it. Most people in my position don’t. Instead, they turn to their doctors, to hospitals or to community led projects. Right now, these amenities are looking just as vulnerable as the people turning to them. I know that you all must be feeling the cost-of-living crisis both personally and professionally. It is so important that we share our stories and keep sharing them. If we can get them in front of the people who can change things, they will have to listen up and take notice. Thank you.