“Never in my career did I expect to create hot banks,” said Ian Brookfield, Labor leader of Wolverhampton council. “I’m embarrassed that in this country we have to do that.”
Just 15 miles from where the Conservative Party met for its annual conference, residents of Wolverhampton face the highest fuel poverty rates of any local authority in England. Compared to a national average of 13%, Wolverhampton has an energy poverty rate of 22.4%.
To prepare for winter, the council has created 38 “warm spaces” in council buildings and community centers around the city. From October 24, they will be open to the public to warm up, charge their phone and have a hot drink.
“I’m not going to be happy that we open them,” Brookfield said. “But we do it because there’s a very realistic chance we’ll lose people, not to accidents or illness, but because they can’t afford heat or food. “
Brookfield said seeing footage of the Conservative conference, so close to where people are struggling to heat their homes, was particularly infuriating.
“The very first comments we heard at the conference were ‘Birmingham is a dump’,” he said. “You look at that, and what they’re trying to do for the benefits, and of course everyone is welcome in the West Midlands, but it just sits in the back of your throat when you see the lack of compassion.”
While Liz Truss was busy in Birmingham trying to unite the party behind her economic policy, there was fear and anger on the streets of Wolverhampton over the rising cost of living..
Beverley Buckley, 53, said she was already wrapping herself in blankets to cut heating costs as her energy bills are set to double from October.
“I had to quit my job recently due to a health problem, so my concern is how the hell am I going to be able to pay my bills? It’s a big concern,” she said. “I stopped turning on the central heating and I stopped using my [clothes] clothes dryer, as this consumes a lot of electricity.
“I was told that if I used less energy I hoped I wouldn’t pay double, but I didn’t use much to start with, how much less can I use?”
Like many people in the West Midlands town, she said she had ‘no faith’ the Conservative government would do anything to help ease the burden.
Bernard Gamage, a 70-year-old retired jockey, said: “They had 13 years to fix the country. We have received correspondence from E.ON indicating that our bills will increase again in October. But I have no intention of paying the extra. People will refuse. »
He said: ‘We still have the political power to say ‘we didn’t elect her, you did’. It is not an elected government. They tell us to work longer, eat less, drink less or put on extra clothes. Why should we do it when they created this situation? »
Jenna Raybone, 36, a medical secretary at a doctor’s office and a mother of five, said her family had agreed to go screen-free on Tuesdays and Thursdays to reduce electricity bills.
“We’ve also said we’ll stick with the gas stovetop rather than the electric oven and broiler,” she said. “We keep the heating on the eco setting at all times, and we’ve said if everyone has sweaters and layers and it’s still cold then we’ll turn it up. there is no extra money coming in, but everything goes up.
She also sees the impact of the cost of living crisis at work, where more and more patients are asking for prescription paracetamol because they cannot afford it. “It really feels like the rich are getting richer and everyone else is being left behind,” she said.