Thursday, August 11

I’m being threatened with a visit from the bailiffs over my gas bill. Let them come – I’ve got nothing to give | Liz


Yo‘d like to dedicate this column to Deborah James, who died last week of bowel cancer. It was her work de ella as a campaigner and podcaster that made me realize that I, too, could have a voice – talking about people living in poverty. So here’s to you, Dame Deb, thanks for everything.

I’ve just received a gas bill. Nothing unusual about that, you may think. Except that last year I set up an account with British Gas to do my gas and electricity on a meter, which means I top it up online. When the quarterly bill used to come it was overwhelming for me – three months’ worth of bills and I’d think, “Where the hell am I going to get this money from?” Now, whenever I’ve got 20 quid or a tenner or a fiver, I put it in the meter and hope it will see me through to the next week. The company said I could pay the backlog I owed it through the meter, which is set at a slightly higher rate, so that every time I put money in, it’s paying off a bit of my debt.

But then I get this bill from British Gas for £495. It’s a mistake, but it’s still another payment I’ve got to deal with and bills are coming out of my ears. I’ve tried to contact it twice. The first time I waited 53 minutes on the phone. I eventually got through and said, “I’m sorry but I pay by meter, I don’t get bills.” The next thing I know, I get a threatening letter through my door. They can send the bailiffs around as far as I’m concerned because I’ve got piss-all they can take off me. They can get rid of my shabby settee if they want it!

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If I had the money, I’d pay it off like a shot. But it’s a matter of what you prioritize. Do you spend your last £30 in Lidl on shopping, or pay off a gas or electricity bill to one of the biggest companies in the country? The fact is British Gas can afford to wait, and we can’t afford to pay it.

Obviously, the weather affects how much I spend. I’ll have to look at the forecast three or four days ahead, see what it’s doing in case I need extra money for the meter. I keep an extra fiver in my emergency Pot Noodle pot in the cupboard.

We live in a rural area in the middle of nowhere. So I have to decide whether I put petrol in the car and go and do a big shop in the nearest town, which is an 18-mile round trip, or go to the more expensive local shop but save on the petrol. It’s £1.40 at the local shop for six eggs and £1.50 for 12 at Lidl or Aldi. So you’re weighing this up all the time. It’s exhausting. Mental health problems will soar with the cost of living crises.

When I hear inflation will be in double figures soon, I wonder how people will cope. I always think that somehow I’ll get by because of my mindset – I’ll take it on the chin and try to turn it into a positive. But I think I’m unusual in that. There are so many people who find it difficult to manage their money and these are the people who will be most affected. That fills me with fear for them.

I’d love to be able to get my son and daughter all the up-to-date stuff. They’re good kids though, and they know I can’t afford it, not least because I don’t get any support from their dads. I don’t sugarcoat the donut with the kids. I’m not one for sugarcoating anything to be honest. But there’s only so much I want them to know because they’re only kids for so long. They’ll be adults soon enough and then they’ll have this shit to deal with themselves, so I shield them from it a bit – I don’t tell them what it does to you mentally when you’re struggling so much financially. The truth is it’s hard enough for a couple to do it together, let alone a single person taking everything on.

You’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry.

On a positive note I’m still managing to keep away from the food bank – partly because I can’t afford the bloody petrol to get there.


www.theguardian.com

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