‘I’m worried, really worried’, Chris told me yesterday (not his real name by the way), ‘I’m worried today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year even. My pension pays £97 a week. My wife has just gone into a care home. I couldn’t look after her anymore. They’ve asked for a financial contribution. Though she’s got a bigger pension than me, they’re going to take most of that. She pays the bills at home too and with the gas and electric going up so much I don’t quite know how I’m going to get by.’
The Cost of Living is hitting our community in Battersea hard. At least 1 in 3 local people (34%) are living in poverty in our borough (London Poverty Profile, 2022), and it is they who are being most affected by this crisis. Most of KLS members (what we call our users/clients) already live on low incomes and struggle financially in the best of times. Now that inflation is at an overall 10.7% (Dec22), and with food and energy inflation through the roof (as much as 60% on certain food staples), times are as hard as they’ve ever been.
‘I’m used to living on not much. But now I’ve hardly got anything. I’m cutting back on things. I don’t eat sometimes so that I can give food to my children. Thank God that cold has gone and it’s raining. I can turn my heating off. I know others have to do this but I didn’t think it would be me.’ Samaria is just one of our ESOL students struggling with the cost of living increases.
Most of our members have cut back on essentials. Most on their heating. Paying for the basics is too much for some. It’s not a question of heating or eating anymore. For some local people they can’t afford to do either. They are taking extra jobs where they can, asking friends and family to help out (if they can) and falling further into debt. This is straining their relationships with their partners, their children and their friends. It’s having an obvious detrimental effect on their mental health too.
And, we’ve only just got out of one catastrophe: Covid and subsequent lockdowns, which led redundancies, financial worries, overcrowded living, stressed family lives, isolation, loneliness, loss and grief etc., to be handed another now is just cruel. ‘We’re in this for the long haul. It’s not just a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon we’ve got to get through when it comes to this emergency’, a local charity head told me recently. Many economic experts are predicting 2-3 years of real hardship ahead, and it’s always the poorest in our society that suffer the most.
Like many local charities and community organisations, we’re doing more to support our members. At our centre on Battersea High Street we’ve been a Warm Hub for decades, so we continue to offer a host of support and activities, in a warm, safe, friendly and fun environment. Food is becoming more urgent, so we are preparing and sharing more food at all of our daily sessions. From January we will be making and distributing food parcels for our members to take home (thanks to one of our brilliant funders). Our supporters were once again very generous this Christmas. Amongst the gifts and donations a group of local companies gave us more than 130 electric blankets, which only cost 5 pence an hour to run. One of our elderly members, Emma, broke down in tears when we gave this to her. She was so relieved and overwhelmed that someone in the community cared enough to help her.
We’re also working in partnership with other local charities, community groups and Wandsworth Council. We’re referring more of our members for advice with Citizens Advice Wandsworth and South West London Law Centre, both of whom have set up new cost of living support services. Thinking Works and SW Leap are brilliant at supporting local residents with reducing their energy consumption and bills. The local foodbanks are being amazing, as are local schools, businesses, faith groups and other charities in doing more to support our community. And the Council has invested £5m from their reserves into a new Cost of Living Hub, providing advice as well as financial support for local people who are struggling, which is excellent.
We’ve helped convene a new Battersea Cost of Living Network, a group of 30-40 local organisations working together to reduce the impact of the cost of living crisis. There is already a lot of support locally, but this new network is binding us more tightly together. We can play to our strengths and work in a more strategic way. For example, we’ve developed a Cost of Living information leaflet, and printed and distributed 17,000 copies across Battersea (we know that 1 in 4 local people are digitally excluded, so many need a paper copy). Citizens Advice are providing Advice First Aid training in January, so that we are consistent in our approach to providing the help and support local people need. Each of us are doing more fundraising, we’re extending our services and working in a more joined up way, so that as a community in Battersea we will get through this cost of living crisis together.
If you would like to help, volunteer, make a donation then please get in touch at www.klsettlement.org.uk
*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.
Featured image: JTP architects