Teaching assistant with ME: I eat one meal a day to combat cost-of-living crisis

Helen Somers says she has been “reduced to one meal a day” due to the cost of living crisis (Helen Somers and Chris Radburn/PA)
Helen Somers says she has been “reduced to one meal a day” due to the cost of living crisis (Helen Somers and Chris Radburn/PA)

A teaching assistant said she has been “reduced to one meal a day” due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The PA news agency has been contacting those hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis, including Helen Somers, 52, from Bingley, West Yorkshire, who is a teaching assistant.

Ms Somers has myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and said an energy bills forecast says she could be paying more than £500 in January for her gas and electric.

Teaching assistant Helen Somers (Helen Somers)
Teaching assistant Helen Somers (Helen Somers)

How has the cost of living crisis changed your life?

“Dramatically, hugely. We’ve always lived from hand to mouth. I’ve got four children, I’ve raised them on my own. Now I’ve just got my youngest son living with me. He’s 18, he’s been doing his A-levels this year. We’re basically living on his tax credits and child benefit. I come home with about £840 a month.

“I do get, at the minute, working tax credit but all that will stop, when Charlie’s classed as not being a student any more.

“Do I pay the water bill or do I pay the community charge? Whatever I pay, I’m going to be in debt to someone.”

When did you first notice costs rising, and how much did they increase by?

“I’d notice the food shopping was going up and you’d put it down to, like, when I go shopping with my son, he’d throw other bits in because he likes doing a bit of cookery. But then you’d notice prices on stuff were going up. And it wasn’t going up by like 5p, 10p, it was going up 30p for things and 50p. That’d be from maybe March (this year).

“I used to think that beans on toast, eggs, things like that were a cheap meal. Cheese omelettes, a quick cheap meal, but it’s not any more.

“I put my meter readings on and it gave me a forecast of how much (my energy bill is) going to go up. At the minute I’m paying £197.45 a month for gas and electric. Last year I was paying £70 a month for both. By October, it’s telling me it’ll be £293.67 a month. November, it’s saying I should be paying £380.72 a month. December, £459.57 to keep on top of it. January, £511.98.”

What changes have you made to cope?

“I work in a school so we get a reduced-price school dinner so, sometimes, I’ll have a school dinner and then I don’t have a tea. So this is what we do, we’re reduced to one meal a day. My son’s not, he’s doing fine, but I’ll just have one meal a day just to cut back.

“I’ll get up and have a coffee, go to work and have my dinner. Maybe I’ll have an apple or something when I get home. Maybe I’ll have cereal, cereal’s a good filler. Sometimes I’m in bed for seven. As long as the pets are fed and Charlie is fed then you’re doing your job right, aren’t you?”

How has this situation made you feel?

“I didn’t honestly think as I got older I’d be worse off than I was. I didn’t think I’d be worse off now than I was when I first became a single parent. I had four children and we could afford to go out, we could afford to do things. Whereas now, it’s school holidays and I can’t afford for us to go anywhere.

“I’m sickened really, I am. I’m really low with it. Every day I’m checking my bank to see whether I’ve got anything in it. You’re watching every penny you spend, you’re watching the petrol in the car before you go anywhere. It’s ridiculous. I shouldn’t be doing this at my age. I love the fact that all my children are earning more than me, but I shouldn’t be feeling like this at my age.”

What do you hope will be done to help you?

“We need someone that does understand the cost of living. Someone that knows how much things cost. Not someone that gives us false promises, someone that will actually do something. We’re not wanting handouts, we all work hard.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s the hardest thing, there’s no end in sight, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel on this one is there?”