To Heat or To Eat? How the Cost-of-Living Crisis is affecting Govan’s residents

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We’ve all seen and heard about it the last few months.

The cost-of-living crisis.

We’ve seen inflation soar to a whopping 7%, the highest rate in over 30 years, products in shops have become more expensive and everyone is reaching down the back of the couch to see if there’s any spare change. On top of that, Council Tax has gone up by 3%.

But what’s been making the headlines is the skyrocketing of fuel prices and energy bills. People across the country are having to make very hard decisions on whether to turn on the heating or eat.

To heat or to eat?

A very real decision.

However, for a lot of us, that decision is not a new one.

People from the most deprived areas in Scotland have had to survive with these kind of decisions for decades. I firmly believe that it is only now that everyone (regardless of wealth) is tight for cash that this problem is being addressed.

Greater Govan is one of the most deprived areas in Glasgow and even the country. It’s also where I have lived my whole life.

Greater Govan (which also covers Ibrox, Drumoyne and Linthouse) comes within the top 10% of most deprived areas on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) in 2020, with a both quintile (25%) and decile (10%) being ranked 1 (meaning most deprived) when the pandemic was just beginning. Some areas of Govan are even within the top 5% of the most deprived areas of the country.

 

Screenshot of the 10% most deprived areas of the Govan area

Think about how it must be now, with everyone being more skint than ever?

To try and get a better picture, I spoke to several people in my area to get a grasp of how severe this issue is here.

I spoke to someone that is unemployed and relies on benefits to get by day to day. This person asked to remain anonymous but felt that it was important to get the perspective of the residents of the area. They said:

“I don’t know what to do really, I’ve not looked into it properly and I’ve not seen anything. I’ve heard things on the news about that there’s going to be help but I just don’t know where you get the help.”

“It’s even harder now cause you don’t get enough (referring to Universal Credit). You know how the £80 extra that everyone got during covid? That was actually beneficial and once that was taken away things got even worse.”

“I’m constantly stressed, worrying about money.”

To reduce the financial strain, Glasgow City Council gave a £150 discount to everyone’s council tax, but this person feels that it just isn’t enough to actually make a difference, when you have extortionate energy bills and inflation to consider as well.

Luckily through the thorough research I had done for this article, I was able to point this person in the right direction to hopefully access some local resources that could help them.

A survey I carried out asked if people felt supported by Glasgow City Council during this financial crisis said that 75% felt that they hadn’t received sufficient support from the council. One response in the question asking why they felt this way read:

“The cost-of-living award seems to be a placating gesture and really doesn’t help that much at all. It’s better than nothing I suppose but overall, it’s not great. I would rather see investment into solar panels or other ways to reduce energy costs long term than a small one-off payment.

“It concerns me that many friends and colleagues have told me they are being forced to apply for crisis loans due to rising costs and even with those, the application process seems strict and the decision seems arbitrary depending if you get a ‘nice’ agent or not. Also, they’re limited to 3 times in one year maximum.”

To help combat the rising energy bills, Glasgow City Council has put some plans into action to help people pay their bills. I spoke to the previous (before the local council elections of the 5th of May 2022) Green Councillor for Govan, Allan Young, to get more insight into these measures.

He told me about G Heat, which claims to help tackle fuel poverty.

“For help with energy costs, because that’s obviously one of the major issues, one of the main ones is getting the headlines. So that was through initiative called G Heat. It’s a service that runs in Glasgow Council to support people with prepayment meters, fuel top up vouchers and debt renegotiation and kind of things like that. In order to reduce the amount of money that people are having to spend on their energy.”

Local councils are given the authority from the Scottish Government to set their own council tax rates, with a maximum of 3%. As a councillor for one of the most deprived areas in the country, surely when Glasgow City Council plan to set such a high rate, you would know that your constituents would suffer from it?

I asked Allan Young this and I was shocked at his answer.

“As I said, you know, to get that extra million to support people with the energy costs and I mean unfortunately with the 3% rise, it was inevitable really.

“Just because of the financial settlement and the financial situation that the Council was in and we needed to raise Council tax.”

Though he said that council tax only covers a small part of the council budget, and thinks that local authorities should have more power to raise their own budgets to mitigate these issues better.

One group, which had gotten coverage on STV News a few weeks ago was Govan Home and Education Link Project, or Govan HELP for short.

According to their website, “Govan Home and Education Link Project (Govan HELP) is a charity which supports families with children in the Govan area of Glasgow. We build the resilience of parents and children by providing a range of early intervention services, helping families to overcome problems and make positive changes to their lives.

Established in 1996, the organisation has evolved over the last 25 years in line with the needs of families in the local community. We now offer seven distinct services, these being:  Family Support, Play Therapy, Children’s Befriending, Community Interpreters, Volunteering and Training opportunities, Adult Counselling and our latest project, The Govan Pantry.”

Interested at the wide range of services available to Govan residents, I got in touch with Viv Sawers, the Chief Officer for the charity.

The Govan Pantry is a food pantry, and acts as a sort of community shop. For just £2.50 to become a member, people can pick 10 items which on average saves about £15 per food shop. There are nearly 2,000 people that are signed up to use the Govan Pantry, which shows the scale of demand for reduced food costs in the area.

 

A glimpse of some of the food available at The Govan Pantry

 

We discussed it sort of like a ladder, there’s your food shop at your local supermarkets, then on the next step down there’s a food pantry which is much cheaper than your regular food shop, the next step after that would be a foodbank, where you’re at a crisis point. Foodbanks act as a safety net for society, so that people don’t literally starve.

Unfortunately, even though they do so much good, there is a stigma when it comes to foodbanks though. People feel ashamed for getting to a crisis point and having to resort to foodbanks. Foodbanks like Glasgow SW Foodbank offer a safe space for people to talk about their problems without judgement and similar to Govan HELP, they can signpost for people to get the financial aid that they need.

 

Some of the food donations at Glasgow SW Foodbank

 

Claire McCunnie, who has worked for seven years with Glasgow SW Foodbank told me about the perceived shame people feel for having to use foodbanks in the first place, by sharing an experience she had with an elderly woman who needed the service.

“We used to see people kind of walk up and down, in front of the door, like on the street. And I feel like I wonder if they’re going to come in, you know, if they are not and approached this woman one day and she was like, I just can’t come in the door. I’m far too embarrassed to come in the door. I just can’t do it. I was like, that’s fine. We’ll bring the bags to you. You stay here, we will bring them to you.

“And we’ve done that for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. And then gradually she started coming in. She made friends with half the volunteers and would come in. Then after when she didn’t need the food bank anymore, she’d just come in a Friday morning for a wee chat with the volunteers. Like it was amazing. And I think that’s a massive thing.”

There were mentions that food pantries and foodbanks tend to bump heads in terms of getting supplies and the stigma that makes some people think that food pantries are more dignified than foodbanks.

But if you think of it like that ladder that I mentioned before, it’s just different stages to getting back on track. In this day and age, there shouldn’t be a classist stigma about this. If people are in a crisis, they should get help. End of.

People who are in that sort of crisis aren’t bad people, who have done some awful thing which has gotten them in this situation. They’re literally just people who are going through a rough patch.

They shouldn’t feel this immense shame that is so deep rooted in classism.

Viv and Claire had similar opinions on the cost-of-living crisis, despite their services differing slightly.

Both services have seen a massive increase in demand over not only over the course of the pandemic but the cost-of-living crisis too.

Viv said, “It’s going to get worse, much worse, seeing an uplift all day and the amount of people who are looking to access the pantry. So, we’re only open for 9 hours over the week. It’s only open Wednesday and Thursday, and then those nine hours we see probably about 250 people.”

Claire shared the same sentiment. As foodbanks primarily rely on excess food from supermarkets and donations from the public, with the cost-of-living crisis, they have seen a massive decrease in the amount of food supplies they are getting.

“They’re not getting what they used to. We only get what the supermarkets have got, and supermarkets are being savvy and not making as much (to not waste money on product manufacture)”

She also had this to say,

“People have always chosen to whether to heat or eat. And I think it’s become as I mean, it’s now a massive shitstorm to be quite honest with the whole country.

I think people didn’t care before, to be honest. See, because it see if it wasnae affecting them, it was fine.”

Unfortunately for us, there seems to be no end to the cost-of-living crisis, with the head of the Bank of England predicting that we’re likely going to have another recession. It’s not all doom and gloom though, where our government is failing us, community organisations are stepping up to do what they can to help.

If you’re able to, please donate to your local foodbank. Govan HELP also have a fundraising campaign which can be accessed here.

If you’re in the Govan area, here are just some of the resources you can access if you’re struggling.

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