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Residents at city tower block make devastating choice between heating and eating

“I don’t put my heating on so I can eat and pay bills.”

Nobody should have to choose between eating and heating, not in the UK. But with energy bills rising, benefits being cut and the country in the midst of a petrol crisis, many people are bracing themselves for a difficult winter.

Black Country Live visited two tower blocks in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, to find out how ordinary people are getting by. And it turns out some barely are.

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Diane Cross, 64, says she will avoid putting the heating on as much as possible as she can’t afford it. She used to work in a factory packing plastic bottles but doesn’t currently work due to ill health. She lives off around £600 a month and says she gets £86 in Universal Credit.

The Government has come under fire for removing the £20-a-week emergency ‘uplift’ to Universal Credit. To many this will simply feel like a cut to their benefits, regardless of how ministers try to explain it away, and they are the ones feeling the impact. It’s money they used to have which they will no longer receive.

Ms Cross said: “With the gas and all that going up it’s going to be really hard. I’m probably going to have to put more layers on instead of putting the heating on.”

Asked if she was worried about the winter, she said: “Yes. I’m not going to be able to have the heating on as much. I’m going to have a lot of bills for other things. If it gets really cold I will have to have the heating on.

“I don’t put my heating on so I can eat and pay bills.

“I think it’s disgusting,” Ms Cross says of the removal of the Universal Credit uplift. “At this time of the year when people need it the most.

St Cecilia’s tower is near New Cross Hospital.

“They are making us older ones suffer when we have worked hard all our lives. We have put our dues in and we are just being penalised in later life.”

Sanjelina, a student in her late 50s who only wanted to give her first name, is also finding times hard.

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She said: “I’m struggling. I’m relying on benefits. Everything is limited, I’ve run out of electric. I know every time it is not going to last long but I have to prioritise. I live a basic life, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.

“I think I am just going to have to be limited in what I use. I’m going to have to balance what I do.”

She added: “I shouldn’t have to. I find it very unfair. I don’t think the Government is doing a good job. There are a lot of people worse off than me, it’s really sad.

“They are not thinking about us really. If they were they would be looking at the finances they are receiving and the lifestyles they are living.

“My parents worked their whole lives and paid into the system. Old people have to sell their houses so they can get care. Why is that when they have put into the system and worked all their lives?”

For many in the neighbouring St Cecilia’s and Wodensfield tower blocks there is almost a sense of acceptance that this is the way things are and they can’t change it. The phrase “it is what it is” was uttered more than once.

One resident, who didn’t want to be named, picks up £100 a week in employment support allowance as well as housing benefit. He injured his back meaning he is unable to work and says he is struggling to heat his home.

Residents at city tower block make devastating choice between heating and eating
St Cecilia’s tower block in Wednesfield.

“I find it really difficult. My kids help me out. It’s just crazy. The bills are going up but the money isn’t going up. I sometimes understand why people have to do crime to get by.

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“I can’t afford to put the heating on. I will have to just put more clothes on, that’s what I usually have to do. If it gets cold I will just have to be cold.”

Mary Osario, 33, is a nurse at New Cross Hospital, a stone’s throw from home, where she lives with her partner and 20-month-old son. She is currently the only earner and says she is barely getting by.

“It causes some worries,” she admits. “Of course I’ve got bills to pay, not just electric and the water supply. I earn just enough to get by.

“There will have some adjustment, it is going to be a bit tight. If I have to turn the heating off at night that’s the best option I can do. Of course bills should be cheaper.”

Father-of-two Dan Fletcher, 26, said: “At the moment we’re not really in a sticky situation. The missus is on Universal Credit but she is not getting that much. I earn too much.

“I think everyone’s going to be worse off. You can’t really do anything, can you?”

Eric Homer, 79, is a retired HGV driver. How the country could do with some more of those at the moment as the Government grapples with the petrol crisis.

“It is because of how the country has been run over many years,” he insists. “The influx of low-paid drivers from abroad undercutting those here.”

Addressing the Brexit-shaped elephant in the room, he adds: “People went to the polls. They weren’t happy with immigration and that’s why that happened.”

Mr Homer believes he’ll be okay on his pension this winter but fears for those who are worse off.

“For people on low wages it’s going to affect them terribly. And the people who have been on furlough.

“I haven’t heard from my energy company yet. No doubt I’ll be getting some correspondence soon saying it’s going up.”

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