The �150 has already been distributed to nearly all those eligible - Credit: Pxhere

COLUMN: From Covid to a cost of living crisis - David Worden

David Worden

It feels like we have jumped out of the frying pan, straight into the fire as a major cost of living crisis grips us just as the threat from Covid-19 appears to have subsided.

With the average cost of a full tank of petrol exceeding £100, charities like Encompass South West and Christians against Poverty are extremely worried that people are going to be forced to choose between giving up a meal or heating their home. Many are extremely worried about going into debt as the cost of living rockets.

With the average wages and household income in our area being below the national average the impact here is greater than in many parts of the country.

The alarm bells began to sound when we were hit with the enormous increases in our energy bills.

The maximum price which suppliers can charge customers in England, Scotland and Wales is called the energy price cap.

At the beginning of April, the price cap for a typical household rose from £1,277 to £1,971 per year.

For pre-payment customers it increased from £1,309 to £2,017. How much we actually pay depends, of course, on how much energy we use and I know that people are cutting back on their use of electricity and gas.

Unfortunately bills are expected to rise even further as the UK energy watchdog Ofgem has said that the price cap could rise to around £2,800 from October.

The weekly food shop becomes more expensive every week as inflation bites. Double digit inflation is at a forty year high and shows no sign of slowing down even though the Bank of England has put up interest rates.

This will result in higher mortgage payments for many.

There is a global shortage of many goods items which has obviously pushed up prices. New post-Brexit trading rules have reduced imports from the EU to the UK and made it more difficult for our companies to export their goods. Shipping companies, which move goods around the world, have been overwhelmed by surging demand after the pandemic.

Retailers now pay a lot more to get imported goods into our shops and so prices are increasing. Air-freight fees have also risen and there is a lorry driver shortage. The picture isn’t helped by the fact that many people changed jobs because of the pandemic and now there are shortages in many occupations such as in hospitality and restaurants.

n addition to the impact of the Covid pandemic and the negative effect of Brexit on our economy, the war in Ukraine has impacted our food and fuel supplies. Unfortunately the war looks set to continue which will result, for example, in a shortage of fertilizer and sunflower oil. Farming costs are already escalating at a very fast pace.

Costs for North Devon Council are also increasing dramatically. In particular inflation will mean that there will be pressure to increase staff wages. On top of this we are all experiencing the enormous increase in fuel costs. Living in a mainly rural area this has real implications regarding the cost of the collection of waste and recycling.

With nearly half the price of fuel being made up of VAT and fuel duty it would greatly assist if the government cut VAT or extended the scheme of reducing duty on rural garages.

Fortunately we have a dedicated Revenues and Benefits team who have been working hard regarding benefit claims and along with others such as our Customer Service team have administered funds such the Household Support Fund to help people buy essentials.

In addition our proposals for an Energy Rebate Discretionary Scheme will be coming to the Strategy and Resources Committee on July 4th.

The £150 has already been distributed to nearly all those eligible and we are planning on using this discretionary fund to offer carefully targeted ‘top-up’ payments to the most vulnerable households in bands A to D (for example, those on means tested benefits), or to award £150 to each household in bands E-H who claim council tax support.

We are doing our best to help but we live in very challenging times and the pressure on our services continues to increase.

North Devon Council leader David Worden - Credit: NDC
North Devon Council leader David Worden - Credit: NDC