Concern in Merseyside as the cost of living crisis hits

“We’ve been here for six generations and this is the first time we’re facing a threat to our existence,” says Kevin Hewlett of Hewlett Butchers in Crosby, Sefton, pointing to a photo of the original shop opposite the site of the Liver Building in 1859.

“Chicken prices have doubled in eight months, and we’re not alone in feeling the pinch. In the last six months the village has lost its post office and pharmacy.”

Hewlett, whose father died in the pandemic and was only able to have 10 people at the funeral, says he has lost all faith in the government to provide sufficient support amid the escalating economic crisis.

Walking the 10 miles from Bootle, an area of relative deprivation, through Crosby and up to well-to-do Formby, north of the city, no one is immune to soaring living costs.

Since the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced on Thursday that he would be imposing a windfall tax on energy companies – a move initially suggested by Labour to ease soaring electricity and gas costs – it seems the overall mood in Merseyside and Liverpool is not one of relief, but of frustration that the measures were not introduced sooner.

Many residents of Bootle and surrounding areas are already having to take on second jobs, use food banks, and come out of retirement to make ends meet.

Shopping in the Strand centre, Jeanette Redmond says her disposable income has shrunk to nothing. “All the nice things are being squeezed from life,” she says, adding that as costs have increased, wages have remained stagnant. Redmond is accompanied by a friend, Ann Mills, who says that as a widow in her 70s, she is still having to work just to survive.

Further along the high street, Terrence and Julie Murphy are shopping together, and say that while they feel there are people “far worse off” than them, “it’s a worrying time, that won’t just be felt by the poorest”.

Heading north to Crosby’s south road, barber Darren Finnegan says he has been extremely conscious of the need to keep a close eye on his energy use and cut back where he can. “So far, it’s just been small steps like hanging the washing on the line rather than using the dryer, but we are going to need to take more serious measures to get through the winter,” he says, adding that the Partygate scandal has left him cynical about the steps being taken by those in power to protect “the average Joe”.

As Liverpool FC prepares to face Real Madrid on Saturday in the Champions League final, football is providing a welcome distraction from the financial worries most are grappling with. Elizabeth Cash, walking near the docks in her Liverpool FC shirt, shares with enthusiasm the news that Iceland is offering a 10% discount on Tuesdays for the over-60s, something that she said would make a significant difference to her day-to-day costs. “It really does feel like a choice between ‘eat or heat’ at the moment. I can’t remember anything like it in my lifetime.”

Though younger than Cash and working in a well-paid profession, barrister and mother-of-two Helen Richardson says that working from home has left her anxious about what her bills will look like come winter. “I think we will see a number of professional households going into debt in the next year,” she predicts. “Something’s got to give,” she says, adding, “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

Arriving finally at Formby, a pretty village lined with bunting, where branches of M&S Simply Food and Waitrose jostle against a wealth management firm and a yoga studio, it feels logical to expect a community with very different priorities. As it turns out, local people are far from immune to the changes.

Suzanne, who doesn’t want to provide her surname, says that having been successfully self-employed before the pandemic, she has found herself on benefits and universal credit, and resorting to using food banks. “After Covid, this latest crisis has left me feeling paralysed,” she says. “It’s just one thing after another, and now it’s impacting on my mental health.”

Even the jovial manager of Formby General Store, Aziz Sherzad, is sceptical that the measures will be sufficient in the longer term, saying some of his regular customers have already started cutting back on everyday items like bleach and toiletries.

Serving customers as they queue to buy household essentials, he concludes: “The people will end up footing the bill. They always do.”

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