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Disabled mum from Medway living in the dark and son fasts twice a week as inflation reaches its highest in 40 years


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A disabled mum says she is living off cold chicken and cheese while her autistic son fasts twice a week to save money, as cost of living figures spiral and inflation soars to a 40-year high.

She also doesn't remember the last time she left her house alone, as she is too scared to face sky-rocketing prices in the shops.

Mum and carer Rita explains how the rise in inflation will seriously impact her life

Official figures on Wednesday show households like Rita's are struggling under the weight of prices that are increasing faster than at any point in more than a generation.

The Office for National Statistics said inflation rose to 9% in the year to April, up from 7% in March.

The Medway mum lives in a small privately-rented three-bedroom home with her 23-year-old autistic son, Clyde.

She explained her life has got worse since last speaking to KentOnline earlier this month, due to complex PTSD and anxiety, alongside other health complications.

She is now mortified with the prospects of even more debt and struggle coming her way.

Rita has lost approximately nine stone since three years ago due to stress and not eating enough. Picture: Rita
Rita has lost approximately nine stone since three years ago due to stress and not eating enough. Picture: Rita

She said: "It’s scary because it’s not just going to affect people like me. This isn’t the end of inflation. Next month, it will probably dip a bit and people will get this sense of security, but it’s not the case. It’s just going to dip a little bit, but by Christmas is going to be worse. Our regular £10 will be worth £9 or £8.

"Our electric and gas bills will go up by another, they say 40%, that’s an awful lot of money. You can’t live. There’s no joy in life anymore. There’s nothing to look forward to. What’s the point? I wake up crying, my heart’s pounding and I just think to myself ‘what’s the point’?"

The 58-year-old, who used to work in catering but is now a full-time carer, lost approximately nine stone over the last three years due to stress and, more recently, not eating enough.

The family only lives off of cold food, as they can no longer afford to use her electric stove regularly.

Rita and her son currently live off of cold chicken and bits of cheese
Rita and her son currently live off of cold chicken and bits of cheese

Rita said: "We now have just been eating cold pieces of chicken with a bit of cheese. The only times we get warm chicken is when my mum brings it over to us. My son now doesn't eat two days a week, so we can save some money.

"Clyde has done a diet when he lost weight and he fasted, and it worked for him. He said he found it easy. He first cut his portion sizes to last seven days a week. But once everything started going up he turned around to me and said he wanted to go back to fasting to help save us some money. So it was completely his decision.

"Once a week, I cook up lentils with curry on my slow cooker, so it's cheap and fills us up for a while. But that’s worth two of full meals for my son and two half portions for me.

"We also struggle with food banks, which I never imagined I'd ever need one of those. I can’t eat pre-prepared food and I need to be careful with my salt intake because I have really high blood pressure and kidney problems as well."

Rita is also terrified of leaving the house by herself, as she cannot cope with the mental stress it entails. She only goes out accompanied by her mum, sister, or daughter and asks people to do her food shopping instead.

Rita has removed all light bulbs from her house and now lights up her home with only four garden lights
Rita has removed all light bulbs from her house and now lights up her home with only four garden lights

She said: "I cannot remember the last time I got out of the house on my own without panicking.

"I’m just too scared to go out anywhere and see the prices of things and immediately remember I can’t afford them.

"The times I’ve tried getting the car, I’m only able to drive up to the end of the road, but I park the car and stay there crying. I wake up crying every day. I just feel useless."

The mum-of two wakes up at 5am to do laundry and housework to make use of the Economy 7 cheap off-peak electricity, and has removed all light bulbs from her home.

She has now purchased £1 solar-power garden lights, which she leaves on her roof during the day to then light up her entire home at night.

Rita says her rent has risen by £400 recently and her electricity jumped from £78 to £249 a month. It comes as the energy price cap was raised on April 1 and prices sky-rocketed.

Rita has lost approximately nine stone since three years ago due to stress and not eating enough. Picture: Rita
Rita has lost approximately nine stone since three years ago due to stress and not eating enough. Picture: Rita

The mum is on multiple benefits, but they do not add up enough to help her navigate through all the debt.

She said: "At the moment I get income support, I get £12.24 because they take out my energy bills from source because I asked them, but it still doesn’t cover my energy bills and my council tax comes straight from that as well because I’ve asked for that. And I get low-rate PIP (personal independence payment).

"My son only gets DLA, he got that from the age of 10. We know he is entitled to more benefits, but I can’t put him through all the assessments needed because he is just too scared. He cannot speak or communicate with anyone but me. So I can’t bear the thought of putting him through all that. It would just cause him immense distress."

"At the end of the month, we live on about £500. And that’s to pay our water rate, food bills, my rent has gone up by £400 so I’ve got to find that money somewhere, plus I have to top up my rent anyway by £200. So effectively, there’s £300 spare for our water rates, our food, find £400 more for my rent and I had to buy a lot of cleaning products for my son because of his OCD.

"To a lot of people, £300 sounds a lot, but it’s not for two adults. When you break that down, it’s not a lot of money. And I’m now behind on £500 on my electric and £300 on my gas. I’ve got to find that money now."

The family has also tried selling almost everything they have. Rita has sold all her jewellery, some LPs, and Clyde has sold his entire LEGO and Power Rangers collections. They've managed to get £800 out of it.

Rita feels families like hers need a sign of hope, and get people to understand their tough reality

Rita fears for her and her family's future, as she doesn't know how long they will have a roof over their head.

She said: "It's just awful. We've tried absolutely everything. I’ve lived through this before in the 1970s, but it was never this bad.

"There was only one parent who had to go to work and be enough to put food on the table.

"We are being left behind and people have no idea what it’s like to live like this.

"We're struggling. It's not as easy as it is - 30 pence a day on cooking food, you can't do it. You can't even turn your oven on for 30p a day, let alone put the food in the actual sauce pan. It doesn't exist."

Lorraine Schulze, Medway Foodbank project manager
Lorraine Schulze, Medway Foodbank project manager

Meanwhile, businesses are also taking the hit of spiralling cost of living and inflation.

A Walderslade woman, for instance, was forced to shut down her dream tea rooms after seeing her bills rise almost £1,000 in just three months.

Medway Foodbank has also told of increasing pressures over the last months, as they have almost twice as many people coming in since the pandemic began.

In 2018, the charity helped 5,800 people. That number has now jumped by to 10,500 since early 2021.

Helping approximately 200 people every week, the foodbank can no longer operate solely on donations.

Project manager Lorraine Schulze said there are several families who like Rita, have never had to use a foodbank before.

She said: "We used to run off based solely on donations, but now with the increase in the number of people, we’re having to buy more food. Depending on the week, our food shopping can cost from £400 up to £1,000.

"We have also had to lease a larger warehouse to help us deal with the increased demand in foodbank usage, so all of our overhead costs have increased and funds are always needed."

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