Cost of living conference at City Hall

Londoners struggling with the cost of living are taking showers at their local leisure centre rather than at home, to bring their energy bills down.

By Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

A group of people sitting around a table having a meeting
The London Assembly held its ‘Cost of Living Conference’ at City Hall on Thursday, October 19. Photo: Noah Vickers

Londoners struggling with the cost of living are taking showers at their local leisure centre rather than at home, to bring their energy bills down.

The relatively low cost of a leisure centre membership in parts of the capital – particularly for those on certain benefits – means that for some, it has become a way of cutting their rising daily costs.

The issue was discussed on Thursday as a group of more than 60 Londoners gathered at City Hall for a summit focused on solutions to the cost of living crisis.

Seb Mandzak, a peer researcher at King’s College London’s Policy Institute, said one of the Londoners he interviewed for the institute’s latest report admitted that he went to his local leisure centre specifically to use the showers almost every day.

The interviewee told Mr Mandzak he was aware of several others in his area doing the same thing.

The Policy Institute’s new report, called Breaking Point, found that 64 per cent of people in Britain believe the cost of living crisis “simply shone a light on a longer term decline in living standards in the UK”. This compares with 30 per cent who say the crisis is “a new phenomenon brought about by unusually high levels of inflation”.

Errol Moricette, one of the attendees at Thursday’s summit, said he had been forced to resort to using a foodbank because of his high energy bills.

“I’ve got aspirations, there’s things I want to do,” he said. “I’m trying to get involved in setting up a home-based business in the field of AI…

“[But] the disposable income just isn’t there, and I’m finding increasingly that when I look at my bank statements, all it says is ‘you’ve got a lot more going out than coming in’.

“Without the foodbank, I wouldn’t even like to think what would happen to me.”

Louise, a young woman who didn’t want to give her surname, said she found herself homeless after leaving the care system aged 18 – and was helped by the charity Centrepoint. Now renting a one-bedroom flat, she said she was afraid of becoming homeless again.

“I’m struggling with my rent,” she said. “If I lived in Manchester or Darlington, it would be a lot cheaper… Why are we discriminated against because we live in London?

“We’re meant to earn more in London, but we don’t get to see it. I’m earning more, but my outgoings are more…

“The fact that I have to constantly worry about my living situation is quite scary. I can never just relax.

“I don’t have [a] mum, dad, I don’t have anyone to help me, having been in the care system. I can’t afford to lose my house.”

The City Hall summit was organised by the London Assembly’s cost of living working group – a cross-party group of Assembly Members (AMs) investigating the crisis’s impact.

Group chair Len Duvall – a Labour AM representing Greenwich and Lewisham – said the crisis had helped to create a political consensus on certain issues, such as on free school meals.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has put a programme in place to give free school meals to every primary school child in London during this academic year.

When the policy was announced in February, City Hall said: “This is one-off funding from additional business rates income. Sadiq is clear that he is only able to provide help that should be coming from the Government for one year.”

Susan Hall, Mr Khan’s Conservative opponent in next year’s mayoral election, has pledged to keep the policy in place “for as long as the cost of living situation requires it”.

Mr Duvall, who is also Labour group leader on the Assembly, said: “There’s a view that I particularly have, that [looking beyond] the year the mayor has done, we will start to pursue a longer term agenda around free school meals.

“We need to give some certainty about that. I’m hoping he’s going to make some announcement soon around that…”

But he added: “He’s got to be mindful of the budgets, the processes he goes through, before he makes those announcements.”

Mr Khan has said it is his “aspiration” to make the policy permanent.

Approached for comment on what action is being taken nationally to bring the cost of living down, a Government spokesman said: “Our number one priority is driving down inflation because that will help everyone’s money go further.

“There are nearly two million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010, but we know some families are struggling, which is why we are providing record financial support worth around £3,300 per household, raising benefits by over 10% this year and increasing the National Living Wage again.”

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