‘It’s going to hit everyone’: warning from town with highest inflation in England

High levels of poverty and poor home energy efficiency make Burnley’s inflation rate 11.5%

Jane* is a mother-of-three who works up to 30 hours a week as a housekeeper. Her oven is turned off at the wall, and for the past few months she has been using a slow cooker to make dinner because she can no longer afford the gas bill. Every night she turns off the wifi and makes sure nothing is left on standby.

She lives in Burnley, Lancashire, which is the place with the highest inflation rate in England at 11.5%, according to the Centre for Cities thinktank. Its latest report found that people in the Lancashire town have been harder hit by the energy crisis because of high poverty levels, poor home energy efficiency and greater reliance on private car use. Energy costs account for about 6% of average wages in Burnley, compared with 3% in London.

With energy and fuel prices predicted to rise even further when the new price cap is announced on Friday, people like Jane are increasingly anxious. How will they survive if forecasts are correct and the cap rises to £3,500 from October, when they are only just scraping by now?

“It’s just constant at the moment. I work really hard. I should be able to afford clothes and treats, like chocolate and crisps,” says Jane. “My mum has given me some curtains for winter and I can’t even afford the curtain rails.”

Families are leaning on local services, charities and the generosity of others to help them afford even the basics. However, the leader of Burnley council, Afrasiab Anwar, says there is only so much goodwill they can rely on as more people struggle to get by and local services are stretched.

In 2020, the council set up a charity in partnership with other local organisations to support the community during the pandemic. People could call Burnley Together for support to set up a debt repayment plan, get emergency food parcels, and advice on what benefits they were eligible for. It was supposed to be a short-term solution. Two years later, its services are expanding.

Man sitting on a bench
Afrasiab Anwar outside the Burnley Together hub. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

“The frightening thing is that it’s not just who you’d typically regard as people who need that support. It’s working families that are struggling to make ends meet and it’s only going to get harder in autumn,” says Anwar. “It’s not just those who are the most vulnerable, it’s going to hit everybody.”

Since 2010, the council’s funding has dropped by 36%, approximately £5m a year. “For a small council like ours, that’s massive,” Anwar says. “The government always talks about levelling up, but we have not seen that. We’ve gone backwards.”

Katarina Coliona lives in a council house not far from the town centre. She is disabled and during the winter her house gets “absolutely freezing cold”. More than three-quarters of homes in Burnley have energy efficiency ratings below energy performance certificate band C, meaning the town has one of the least energy-efficient housing stocks in the country. Coliona has already had to cut back on food, and fears what will happen if she is unable to keep up with her rising energy bills.

Katarina Coliona
Katarina Coliona takes in the sun outside her home on Herbert Street, which has no garden. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

“Everything’s gone up,” she says. “It’s the things I need, like heat and gas. It’s putting petrol in to go see my family. It’s the food shop.”

How has she been coping? “My mental health has suffered. The simplest things you rely on to make you feel better you can’t afford.” When asked how she would manage if the price cap was raised, Coliona pauses before answering: “Why would I want to live through winter?”

A short walk from the town centre, St Matthew’s Church is hosting a summer fair. The church has been transformed into a bakery, cafe and toy shop for the day, with many parents attending to pick up second-hand school uniforms.

“We’re giving out free uniforms. That’s fine, but why?” asks Father Frost, the vicar at St Matthew’s. “We’re meant to be one of the richest countries and yet people are just desperate.”

Jane heads home with a bag filled with clothes. Her son now has something to wear when school starts again in September. But charity won’t be enough to offset rising costs for Jane over the winter. As energy and fuel prices rise, many in Burnley will be forced to make painful choices to get their family through the coming months.

* Jane is a pseudonym as she spoke anonymously


Mabel Banfield-Nwachi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sunak attempts to ease cost of living squeeze as interest rates climb
Analysis: Chancellor says £9bn package will take sting out of UK’s economic woes – but is it enough?

Larry Elliott Economics editor

03, Feb, 2022 @2:51 PM

Article image
Cost of living crisis: protests to launch across the UK
Enough is Enough campaign garners 300,000 signs-ups with 50 rallies planned next week across Britain

Zoe Wood

12, Aug, 2022 @12:07 PM

Article image
Further 250,000 UK households face destitution in 2023, warns NIESR
Thinktank calls for urgent £25-a-week UC uplift and £250 one-off payment to cushion poorest from inflation

Phillip Inman

11, May, 2022 @5:01 AM

Article image
John Lewis boss calls for Covid-style cost of living aid package
Dame Sharon White follows Tesco head in urging UK government to help with rising energy and grocery bills

Mark Sweney

12, May, 2022 @8:22 AM

Article image
Cost of living crisis: Rishi Sunak must at the very least raise UK benefits
One in three Britons will be unable to afford the cost of living this year – help is needed now for the worst off

Richard Partington

10, Apr, 2022 @11:41 AM

Article image
‘Golden era’ of cheap food over as two in five Britons buy less to eat
ONS survey reveals worsening effects of cost of living crisis, with food prices forecast to have risen by 9% in April

Zoe Wood, Sarah Butler and Kalyeena Makortoff

13, May, 2022 @6:04 PM

Article image
Cost of living crisis: Value of UK unemployment benefits see biggest fall in 50 years
Scheduled 3.1% rise in state pension and benefits fails to keep up with 8% hike in prices of essentials and energy

Miles Brignall

11, Apr, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Cost-of-living crisis: Jack Monroe hails ONS update of inflation calculations
Move by government statisticians follows analysis by UK poverty activist of impact on poorest families

Larry Elliott Economics editor

26, Jan, 2022 @7:23 PM

Article image
‘I see price rises of 25-50%’: how inflation is affecting people with a disability or illness
With the rate at 9.4%, UK households are feeling the pressure of the cost of living crisis

Jedidajah Otte

20, Jul, 2022 @11:22 AM

Article image
‘One day I eat, one day I don’t’: Bolton grapples with cost of living crisis
Anxious families in north-west England town turn to Citizens Advice for help as inflation bites – but staff are out of answers

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

01, Apr, 2022 @2:16 PM