WE are all feeling the crunch, whether at the supermarket till, petrol pump or wondering how long we can leave it until the heating gets switched on.
But the cost of living is biting and it is not just hurting our bank balances.
Our health is suffering too.
Families are making impossible choices between being warm and putting food on the table.
The Royal College of Physicians found more than half of Britons (55 per cent) said the cost-of-living crisis was damaging their health.
The Health Foundation has called it an “emergency” and nine in ten pharmacists in England have reported having patients going without medicine because they cannot afford prescription charges.
“Over time, these changes have a negative impact on our health.”
So what can be done? You might not have any control over the economy, but you can take control of your health. People who are struggling share their stories and we look at ways to find help.
MONEY and mental health form a “vicious circle”, says Stephen Buckley, head of information at charity Mind.
He adds: “People facing tough financial situations are more likely to have a mental health problem, and those with an existing mental health problem are more vulnerable to the effects of financial distress.”
More people being pushed into poverty will only exacerbate the problem, says charity Mental Health Concern, while Britons in the lowest 20 per cent income bracket are already two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than those in the highest.
Meanwhile, 47 per cent of therapists report clients are cancelling or pausing sessions because they can no longer afford them, according to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Dr Ward says people with mental health issues are even more vulnerable when costs spiral.
She adds: “Their condition can be worsened by financial pressures, which in turn affects their ability to work and earn money, which worsens the situation further.”
Stephen says feeling irritated, drinking and smoking more than normal, and struggling to sleep and concentrate are all red flags.
He adds: “If you’ve noticed changes to your feelings, thoughts and behaviour that last longer than two weeks or keep returning, talk to someone you trust. Your GP should be able to tell you what help and support is available.”
Call the confidential Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 for support.
If you are struggling to pay bills or getting into debt, contact Citizens Advice, Debt charity StepChange (stepchange.org) or National Debtline (0808 808 4000) for free debt advice. Other useful organisations include Gingerbread and Turn2Us.
‘I can’t afford to even treat the children’
AMANDA DUDDRIDGE, 37, a teaching assistant from Pontypridd, used exercise to manage her anxiety but now has fears about how she will cope if bills continue to rocket.
She says: “I used to go to the gym four times a week but now I can’t afford to keep driving back and forth, so I only go once or twice.
“I’ve battled anxiety for years and the gym was my way of keeping it at bay. I feel so deflated. I can’t afford to even treat the children.”
Amanda, who is mum to Esmee, nine, and Elvie, three, with partner Grafton, 38, a customer services adviser, adds: It makes me feel a failure.
All I do is worry about if we’ll be able to pay the bills at the end of the month or buy food.”
“IF you have underlying medical conditions, they can be made worse by living in a cold, damp house or by the stress of not being able to pay essential living costs,” warns Dr Ward.
“If you cannot afford to take time out for health appointments, to have treatment or even pay for prescriptions, your health suffers.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Dr Ward says you should not struggle alone.
Macmillan Cancer Support has trained financial advisers available Monday to Friday from 8am-6pm via is support line (0808 808 00 00), and Scope provides disability energy support advisers (scope.org.uk). Contact Turn2Us (turn2us.org.uk) to apply for health grants in your area.
Dr Ward adds: “Seek help at Citizens Advice, at local charities or your GP practice. If your GP practice employs staff called social prescribers or care co-ordinators, ask for an appointment with them.
“They have a wealth of knowledge about support and services available where you live and can help you access it.”
‘We’re living each week faced with anxiety’
JULIAN FIANO, 34, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour in 2016 and almost lost his home after he had to stop work as a youth coach.
He says: “While I should’ve been focusing on living what life I had left to the fullest, I was spending my days panicking about cash.”
Julian, from London, has turned to Macmillan Cancer Support and Virgin Money for help.
He says: “My partner and I are literally living week by week, faced with so much anxiety about how we’re going to pay the bills and buy food.”
Choosing between buying food and fuel to get to appointments means he faces missing physiotherapy sessions.
DR WARD says: “For every one degree drop in temperature, the risk of being seriously unwell or dying increases for people with a respiratory illness.”
With around 22million of us seeing our energy bills surge since April, you might be planning to switch the heating off to reduce costs.
But this puts you at risk of mould and damp, which GP Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at charity Asthma + Lung UK, says can lead to respiratory issues.
He adds: “Mould and damp can be harmful to our lungs, as mould releases spores that can be breathed in, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing or watery eyes.
“Mould and fungi are a major trigger for asthma attacks and can worsen symptoms for those with other lung conditions, leaving them fighting for breath.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Ventilation is key to avoiding damp. Hang washing outside where possible, avoid drying clothes on radiators and regularly open windows for fresh air – which can help reduce the spread of infections such as flu and Covid.
If you have a mould problem, housing charity Shelter advises checking your tenancy agreement to find out how to report repairs to your landlord or letting agent. Dr Ward says: “Keep records and evidence of the repair problem. This can help if you need to take further action.
“Proof can include photos and any damage to your belongings, emails, texts, letters to and from your landlord, and doctors’ notes if your health is affected.
“Your landlord must make sure your home is fit to live in. Some local authorities are asking medical teams to refer patients if their house could affect their health due to the cold and damp.”
‘My son was diagnosed with nocturnal wheeze – it left me feeling so helpless’
ANNA SOMMA’s six-year-old son Lucca ended up in hospital after the walls of their social housing home in Jersey became damp.
She says: “Lucca was first in hospital for breathing issues in June 2019, then again in September when he was diagnosed with a viral wheeze and again in October.”
Anna, who is waiting for new housing, says Lucca still gets chesty when he becomes ill, each time being put on a nebuliser and given antibiotics.
He was in hospital again in March 2020 and diagnosed with a nocturnal wheeze. She says: “I felt so helpless. I was doing everything to get rid of the damp and mould but nothing worked.”
SINCE January, 57 per cent more adults are estimated to be going hungry, according to the Food Foundation think tank, with one in seven being “food-insecure” and too skint to afford to eat every day.
Now, with fresh food inflation at a record 13.3 per cent, a study by the universities of East Anglia and Reading has found households on prepaid meters – who usually pay more for their energy – are eating almost three fewer portions of fruit and veg a week than those on other payment methods.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Some councils in London are beginning to trial fruit and vegetables on prescription, so people whose health depends on them can access exactly what they need.
But these pilot schemes are in their early days. You can get a referral for local food banks through Citizens Advice, charities, schools and your GP.
Visit The Trussell Trust (trusselltrust.org) to find your nearest one – and check your child’s eligibility for free school meals.
If you are more than ten weeks pregnant or have a child who is under four, you might also be entitled to help to buy healthy food and milk under the NHS Healthy Start scheme, or Best Start Foods in Scotland.
Look out for cheaper “wonky” veg boxes at supermarkets, such as those at Morrisons for £3.
Community fridges can be great places to pick up fresh food that someone else no longer needs.
‘Fruit and veg are just too expensive now’
KIRSTI MURRAY, 33, is concerned about not being able to afford fresh food.
Her son Kenzie Harris, 12, is disabled and has a bowel condition that means he is reliant on particular ingredients.
But her food bill has gone up by £10 a week and she is worried about how it will affect his health if she cannot buy the food he needs.
Kirsti, from Hull, said: “Kenzie is on a strict diet of vegetables and has to eat wholemeal pasta and bread. But fruit and vegetables are just too expensive now.
“If he doesn’t eat the right things, he could get a bowel blockage and would need an operation.
“With the prices of gas and electricity going up too, I don’t know how we will carry on.”
SOME pharmacists have reported paying for patients’ prescriptions out of their own pocket, while others are having people return unused medicines for refunds to help them scrape by.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: You are eligible for free prescriptions in England if you are on state benefits, are pregnant or a new mum, have specified medical conditions or disabilities, are over-60 or under-16.
Prescriptions are free for everyone in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Otherwise, a single prescription costs £9.35, but repayment certificates can be used to cap costs at around £2 a week for regular prescriptions.
Double check your benefits entitlement. Stephen says: “You have a right to claim them if you’re struggling to manage or just need that bit extra.”
Visit mind.org.uk for information on navigating the system and, again, speak to your GP and pharmacist who may be able to help.
‘Important I’m able to invest in my health’
RUTH CHIPPERFIELD, 32, suffers from narcolepsy, a brain condition that causes her to suddenly fall asleep.
She is worried her health could collapse if she is unable to afford her treatment – probiotics and magnesium supplements that cost £75 a month.
They reduce her debilitating migraines and cataplexy symptoms, where muscles shake and go weak with no warning.
The married mum of one, who is a jewellery designer from Birmingham, says: “There are people worse off than me. I can afford essentials but it’s important I have enough money to invest in my health.
“Without these supplements I might not always feel well enough to work. If I am not well, I make less money.”