“Everything, really,” says Joyce Irlam matter of factly when asked what she has noticed going up in price. “All the shops I go in, I can see the difference in the prices.”
Irlam speaks for many as the latest official data shows inflation hitting 10.1%, stoked by a near 15% jump in the cost of food and drink, with staples such as bread, meat, milk, cheese and eggs among the biggest risers.
Like many Britons, Irlam is watching what she buys and how she will cook it in an effort to keep a lid on rising costs. “I microwave as much as I can,” says Irlam. “I use the top of my oven more than I use the bottom.”
Her monthly energy direct debit has increased by nearly 50% to £117, so she is trying not to put the heating on “unless I really need it”, and is being careful about putting lights on too. “I’ll sit with me candles at night.”
To save money, Irlam heads to her local branch of Iceland in Urmston, Manchester, every Tuesday to stock up, including on its pies, veggies and fish, taking advantage of the 10% discount that the chain has been offering shoppers over the age of 60 across the country since May.
That the discount has already been used 4m times is perhaps no surprise given the backdrop of rising bills. The industry analysts Kantar estimate that grocery price inflation has added nearly £650 to the average annual grocery bill, with the squeeze on household finances affecting shopper behaviour.
Shoppers are buying cheaper own-label products over brand items and more frozen food – or are simply heading to cheaper stores, with the discounters Aldi and Lidl clocking up huge sales increases.
The crisis is particularly severe for people or households on low or fixed incomes, such as pensioners. There was some good news for this group on Wednesday when the government confirmed its commitment to the triple lock guarantee. That means someone eligible for a full state pension will get an annual rise of close to £1,000 from April.
Richard Walker, Iceland’s outspoken managing director, who hopes to stand to become a Conservative MP at the next election, said the supermarket chain was doing what it could to support its customers through difficult circumstances. “The cost of living crisis continues to cause distress in the everyday lives of these customers and that’s why we want to keep doing what we can,” he said.
Patricia Higginson, another now regular shopper utilising the discount in Urmston, has noticed the soaring price of basics including milk. “It used to be £1 for four pints, now it’s £1.39. I definitely notice and I’m being careful what I buy,” she says.
She is also worried about energy bills. To avoid constantly using her oven, she is batch cooking, making casseroles to put in the freezer.
“I don’t put the lights on until it is nearly dark and I find I’m going to bed early because I’ve got an electric blanket,” says Higginson. “I’ve managed to not put my central heating on yet by putting on more clothing. It is quite frightening really how it’s shot up,” she says, referring to the rising cost of keeping her home warm.
Indeed, shoppers trying to reduce the use of their central heating or oven seems to be a common theme amid worries of high running costs. The government’s temporary energy price guarantee scheme is now limiting typical household bills to about £2,500 a year but that is still double the cost of last winter’s bills.
Brenda Hill, another regular at Iceland, says she is even buyingteabags from the frozen food retailer. “Every Tuesday I come in and buy stuff that will last us for the rest of the week. I think this is something the over-60s need at this time.” For her, the discount means three meals for the price of two, a “big saving”.
Hill is focused on shopping around to find the best deals to make her budget stretch further and is also being careful about her energy use.
“We’ve no central heating on at the moment,” she says. “All that we are really using is lights. I am all electric so have to use my cooker and the microwave. I just try to get something that’s not going to take too long to cook.”
Another Urmston shopper, Irene Carter, says the discount saves her about £5 on her shopping and she wishes other retailers would do the same.
The rising cost of living is evident on her monthly credit card bill. She uses the card for her day-to-day spending before paying it off at the end of the month. “Last month it went over £1,000 for the month and that’s not with my bills,” she says. “Normally it’s about £800.”