More than half of Britons are cutting back on their gas and electricity usage at home due to the worsening cost of living crisis, which is hitting vulnerable groups, including pensioners and disabled people, harder.
An estimated 24 million people in Great Britain, equal to 51% of the population, used less gas and electricity between 30 March and 19 June, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) research examining how people were reacting to the crisis. Those aged between 55 and 74 years were the most likely to be cutting their energy use.
Charities have been warning that the magnitude of bill increases mean many lower-income households will have to choose between eating and heating their homes this winter.
“These are truly desperate times, and millions of people have been forced to take desperate measures,” said Sarah Coles senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown
“While all of us are facing the pain of rising prices, it’s those on lower incomes, renters, people with disabilities and those in the most deprived areas that are facing impossible challenges,” she added .
Energy costs have risen sharply in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and are due to increase sharply again in the autumn when the new price cap on household bills kicks in.
A recent update from analysts at Cornwall Insight predicted that in October the energy price cap will rise to £3,244 a year before ratcheting up again to £3,363 in January. The tariff, set quarterly by the energy industry regulator, Ofgem, is already at a record high of £1,971 a year with the next price cap due to be published this month.
The ONS report paints a grim picture of the lifestyle changes being made to cope with the financial squeeze. Rising food, fuel and energy costs had forced 16 million people to cut back on essentials such as groceries, it found, while almost a quarter, or 11 million people, are dipping into their savings to cover their living costs. About 6 million reported using more credit than usual to get by.
Worryingly, the research revealed disabled people were more likely than the rest of the population to have reduced their spending on food and essentials because their living costs had increased, with four in 10 cutting back in this area.
Just under half of those earning between £10,000 and £15,000 had specifically cut back on food, as had about half of renters. Those in the most deprived areas of England were also more likely to have reduced spending on food and essentials, the data showed.
However, soaring inflation means a growing number of people, including those on higher incomes, are tightening their belts with 57% of the population reducing spending on non-essentials, such as clothing, subscriptions and meals out.