Crisis: the cost of living when people don’t care

September 13, 2022

Collage by Exposure with image of hand by Pete Linforth and image of arrow by Gerd Altmann both from Pixabay

Care leaver Kerrie Portman endures the effects of greed triumphing over humanity

Content warning: the following piece touches on the issue of suicide that some may find distressing or triggering

Last winter I was homeless. It was cold. Sometimes to stay warm I would ride the bus to the end of the line, just to change and come back. There is one bus route near me that is an hour and nine minutes, there and an hour and nine minutes back.

The 22-minute wait at the other end is at a sheltered bus stop, so somewhat heated and at least dry, even if it’s in an unsafe city. Other times I’d find public bathrooms to sit in for long periods of time, which as well as being able to be inside also provided privacy. I had no way to heat food, or access to anywhere to store it, so all I could eat for months was room temperature food, which did little to help the temperature and less to help with malnutrition.

I was hungry all the time, and my ribs and bones pressed painfully against my skin. It felt like my blood turned to ice and my limbs would snap off at the joins.

Meanwhile Shell profited by £9.4 billion in a single year. Between January and June, British Gas made a profit of £1.34bn. Between April and June, BP announced profits of £6.95 billion.

That I will be homeless again is in my brain constantly, so strong it feels more like an inevitable future than a fear

I am a disabled young Care Leaver. I’ve been homeless twice in the past year, during which I received no support from social services, though they are legally required to until I’m 25. I didn’t even have anyone to talk to. There was nothing and no one. I still don’t have the support I need. I am still physically and mentally traumatised. That it will happen again is in my brain constantly, so strong it feels more like an inevitable future than a fear.

There was, and is, nothing being done to stop it from happening again. And now, on top of that, I see the growing Cost of Living crisis, and I see nothing being done about that. The constant fear leaves me so hopeless that the idea of suicide as a backup plan and way out is always on my mind.

Meanwhile, John Pettigrew, boss of National Grid received £6.5 million bonus on top of his salary. According to the Mirror, Chris O’Shea, chief executive of British Gas owner Centrica was paid almost £2 million last year in salary and benefits. Centrica’s non-executive directors were paid almost £1 million. Scottish Power’s CEO Keith Anderson is on £1.15 million. E.On boss Michael Lewis is on £1 million. EDF’s Simone Rossi is also on £1 million, whilst their top executives enjoyed a share of £4.65 million.

Peter Simpson of Anglian Water earned a £1.3 million pay package. Welsh Water bosses awarded themselves bonuses of nearly £1 million. Severn Trent bosses awarded themselves bonuses of £5.56 million.

The thing, and a big part of what informs my trauma, is… there is not a shortage of money. The crisis is that of people hoarding money and one of selfishness, one of apathy in lieu of empathy.

Having been in Care, I already saw some of the worst of humanity

It is a man-made and perfectly preventable crisis. The deaths are perfectly preventable, the struggle, the trauma, the hunger, the cold, the fear, the illness… they are all preventable. They were also preventable when I was homeless.

I’ve had a home for seven months now and I still have debilitating chronic illnesses from the cold, the hunger, when I could see my ribs and my skin changed colour, when I was on the streets, when I was squatting in somewhere where the walls were covered in the thick black mould until I got asthma, when I thought I would die or when it got so bad I tried to take my life.

Public Health England estimated that the cost per homeless person to the public purse was three to four times higher than the cost for the average adult.

Having been in Care, I already saw some of the worst of humanity. The staff taught me very thoroughly and consistently that a great many people are not kind and do not care. I learnt in the Children’s Home that, when a company doesn’t hit its profit target, it will torture children to release their frustrations.

I learnt from social services that they will deal with the guilt of their abuse by having a temper tantrum that ruined my life. I learnt from my social worker that I “ruin” everything the first time I was homeless by going to a public park and I learnt that nobody cares when I am homeless or suicidal. I was taught by the world around me to be more suspicious of people who are kind to me because being hit was so normalised.

And now I see the Cost of Living Crisis as energy prices rocket and the profits of energy prices soar.

It doesn’t cost money to be nice, which is unfortunately lost on some people

It is a choice, this suffering. That’s what traumatises me about the world: that it is a choice and that it doesn’t have to be this way and so easily could be different if we valued the essence of humanity over capitalism.

One way to help the Cost of Living Crisis is for public ownership of the gas companies. A recent poll by Survation found that 66% of the sample of 4,300 people in the UK think energy should be run in the public sector. The TUC (Trades Union Congress, the voice of Britain at work) estimate it would cost approximately £2.85 billion to bring energy companies into public ownership, whilst the government spends £2.7 billion to bail out a failing system.

Earlier this year I was at a conference about homelessness and someone in government asked if the issue was money and I said no. I told him about how – when I reached out to the council to apply to be on the social housing register, after I’d attempted suicide a few times due to being homeless – they told me I didn’t deserve a home.

And I told him how several times before these attempts, when I’d asked for help, I’d explicitly said maybe having someone to talk to would be enough but nobody even replied.

It doesn’t cost money to be nice, which is unfortunately lost on some people who work for the council and in social care.

We have enough money in the UK. We don’t have enough distribution. And we don’t have enough compassion to value human life over profit.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

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