I felt sick when I saw my energy bill

Sabrina, a young woman who has recently joined our Advisory Panel, writes about struggling with utility bills and food shopping and what the government should do to support young women through the cost of living crisis.

As a young woman that has previously faced barriers to gaining employment, resulting in little or no pay, I intend to use my time on the Young Women’s Advisory Panel to help bring awareness to some of the economic issues affecting so many other young women like me here in the UK.

I graduated in 2019 and spent some time trying to gain experience in my chosen industry before the pandemic happened. Whilst I was fortunate to be able to work from home for over a year, I lost my job in August 2021. I was diagnosed with a long-term medical condition in the same month and found myself needing financial help from the government.

I can’t afford to put my health first

I’m grateful that I’m now in permanent employment again and I’m trying to focus on saving where I can but so far that’s not been possible every month. I’m working part time for now, as I’m being phased in, which is the best thing for my physical and mental health, but to be able to afford to survive financially I’m going to have to increase my hours sooner than I expected. I’m a firm believer that your health should take priority, but in a situation like this, I don’t have a choice. The reality is I can’t afford to put my health first if I want to financially survive in the current climate. I’m one of many stories like this I’m sure.

When it comes to utility bills, food, medical costs and essential items like period products, which takes priority?

Rising cost of food and utility bills

I love a good bargain and I’d say that I’m a pretty savvy food shopper, but the rising cost of food and other essentials means that I’m struggling to see how to make a saving across my food shop even through shopping around to try and find the best price.

I first heard about the predicted price hikes in fuel, food and energy bills in the latter part of last year, but it hit me in April when I received a letter from my energy company stating how much it actually might be. I just remember feeling sick and thinking “how on earth am I going to afford this?” Coupled with the fact that my personal and household bills have also risen, more sacrifices have had to be made. When it comes to utility bills, food, medical costs and essential items like period products, which takes priority? That’s the question I’ve had to ask myself every month this year and to be honest, the answer depends on the month.

Juggling bills

Coming from a single parent family, at various points growing up I’d hear my mum say how she had to juggle bills. Although I’m employed again now, I find myself having to juggle – it’s a constant balancing act. Working remotely from home, I’m more conscious of things like electricity usage and how frequently in charging my devices.

At the moment, we rent privately and our rent rocketed in February. I worry that living costs will continue to get higher, making it harder for people like me to own their homes. I’m able to share the financial burden of rising costs with my partner, so no matter how stressful it is, I try to count my blessings.

People shouldn’t have to choose whether to eat and be cold or turn the heating on and starve.

Government support

The former Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, who also happens to be my local MP, recently announced a price freeze in prescription charges that currently stand at £9.35. I’ll be taking medication for the next 2 years minimum and although it’s not the worst news, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Freezing the price isn’t the same as reducing the price, as others on Twitter have rightly pointed out.

The increase in the Household Support Fund is great news for young women struggling financially, but as living costs continue to skyrocket, leaving young women disproportionately affected, the number of young women needing support from mental health services will continue to rise.

Research shows that a prominent barrier to young women seeking mental health help is a lack of accessible information. So with dwindling mental health care budgets, it’s not surprising that in a recent Young Women’s Trust survey 71% of young women said that their confidence in politicians has got worse over the last 12 months.

I would urge the government to consider increasing funding for local services dedicated to supporting young women who are financially struggling and suffering from mental health problems. I would urge policy makers to reach out to organisations like Young Women’s Trust and invest their time in listening to young women with lived experience of economic injustice. Young women were affected before the rising living costs and even more so now.

People shouldn’t have to choose whether to eat and be cold or turn the heating on and starve.

Our 2022 annual survey report reveals the difficulties young women are facing, as they come out of the pandemic and into a cost of living crisis.

Read more about the report