BBC One’s Panorama specials are known for tackling thought-provoking topics and its latest episode (which aired on Monday 11 April) explored the crisis from the point of view of three women who are struggling with their finances every day.
We’re introduced to Emma, who has three children and works part-time in a local art gallery. Her husband is a warehouse supervisor and between them they take home a little over £2,000 a month.
But rent and bills take nearly all of it. Emma explains: “At the end of each month, we’re left with roughly £100.
“That £100 has to pay for food and anything that’s going on at school. We use a food bank. As far as the weekly food shop goes, that doesn’t happen any more.”
Emma admits that because of price rises, she doesn’t “eat like a normal person”. She says: “On a bad day, I’ll just have a couple of biscuits. My husband doesn’t eat breakfast or lunch, he’ll just have dinner. But then that means the kids get what they need.”
The family gets Universal Credit but that was cut by £20 a week when the government withdrew a special Covid-19 payment last autumn. “I am always worrying about the bills – from the moment I wake up,” Emma reveals.
“It does affect your mental health but I think the way things are at the moment, either way my mental health is going to take a battering.”
Prices have steadily been rising for the past year due to rising global energy costs and the Covid crisis. We’re witnessing the highest rate of inflation for an entire generation, the documentary highlights, but pay isn’t keeping up.
Emma explains that “we’re doing everything we can to get our family out of this situation. I can only begin to imagine what the next few months look like for us.
“It’s not like I’m not trying – we’re trying everything we can. It’s a struggle. It’s horrid. There’s no way people should be living like this.”
The disconnect between rising energy prices and salaries is underlined by footage of Emma revealing that she got paid and on the same day – by lunchtime – the whole pay packet had gone towards their bills. Even so, she admits: “I’m not sure if the gas and electric are going to last till next Wednesday so I’ll have to be extra careful with that for the next six days.”
She’s visibly exhausted but this is the reality for many families right now. Rising prices are expected to push 1.3 million households into poverty, the documentary warns.
Becky, who is a single mother of three children and a part-time NHS nurse, also features in the documentary. She explains that, to keep costs down, they forgo cars and public transport and walk or cycle everywhere they can. With a nurse’s wage, Becky expresses how frustrated she is to still not be able to “break even”.
On top of bills and mortgage payments, Becky is left with £80 a week for everything, including food. When filming, she reveals that she checked her bank balance that morning and said they had only £7. “That’s to last us for 10 days now until the family allowance comes in,” she says.
Her children are aware of the situation at hand and Becky admits – like Emma – that she skips meals so that her children can eat. Even her children are aware she does this.
“I do see my mum skipping meals sometimes so that we can have ours and it makes me worry because I do wonder if she’s getting enough of what she needs to have to be alright,” Becky’s daughter Bethan says.
Becky says that she knows Bethan says she’s not hungry so that she can have the meal instead. “She does try her very best and sometimes when we don’t have very much in the cupboards, I’ll let my brother and sister have that,” Bethan explains.
“I do worry, though, sometimes because I worry if we just won’t cope.”
While the episode is a stark reminder of the reality of the cost of living crisis, it is a necessary watch.
Emma gets emotional when admitting: “I’m weathering a storm and I don’t want to be – I don’t want to be in this position any more.”
The emotional toll of the crisis is the most poignant thing about this Panorama episode and while statistics prove shocking, it’s the moments where we see Emma trying to compose herself before seeing her children that are the most striking.
The stress of everything is unbearable for the young mother and she believes it’s making her ill. “It’s the not knowing and the uncertainty of what’s to come.
“It’s demoralising, it’s disheartening because I’m trying my best and there’s only so much I can do. It’s heartbreaking.”
Panorama: Surviving The Cost Of Living Crisis is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.