“It feels like everything is getting worse:” The quiet crisis in a tower as energy bills rise, benefits are reduced and fuel shortages bite
A perfect storm of problems has hit the country. The hard facts hardly need to be repeated – the price of gasoline has skyrocketed, food has become more expensive, doctor and dentist appointments are harder to come by, and the shortage of Truck drivers and a run on the pumps led to a shortage of gasoline, which was already quite expensive. On top of that, the £ 20 universal credit increase, intended to help people get through the pandemic, is underway. As politicians clash, thousands of Greater Manchester tenants face a harsh winter in the shadow of Covid and Brexit. Louisa Gregson from MEN spoke to the residents of the towers and estates in the region about the challenges they are facing right now.
Leaning on his balcony, smoking, a man stares at the rain bouncing off the building in front of him. Beside him sits a woman who still wears her dressing gown, despite the afternoon.
A clothesline hangs from the front door of the apartment below, towels blown by the wind and soaked.
When asked by the Manchester Evening News if they were keen on discussing the issues facing the country, they shrugged “we don’t speak English” – but the dejected expressions on their faces say it all.
READ MORE: Universal credit cut will have ‘devastating impact’ on 58,000 Manchester families, advisers warn
On the street, 27-year-old Damon Watters, who lives across from them at Uvedale House near Cawdor Street in Eccles, has a more sunny demeanor.
Rushing to visit a friend, he tells us that he likes to stay positive, keep smiling, and have fun every day.
But, despite his carefree aura, he had things on his mind.
“The oil situation is a pain in the ar * e,” he said.
“I have a grandmother in Droylsden and she has no one to shop for her groceries if I can’t buy gas for my bike.”
He is also concerned about food shortages.
“There’s The Mustard Tree food bank in the middle of Eccles. If there are food shortages, it could be affected.
“My wife and I have had to go to food banks if we have financial difficulties.
“A few of the guys I go to the pub with have had their universal credit cut, I’ll buy them a pint if I can.
“They’re just trying to have a little fun with what’s left of them.
“For the most part it’s okay here. Sounds a bit harsh but it’s okay – we have a bit of a joke with the police when they arrive.”
Neighbor Roy Bannister, 68, a retired UPS employee, has lived at Uvedale House for over 12 years. He fears the prospect of food shortages and the increase in his energy bill.
“I imagine it will be difficult and it will probably get worse,” he said.
“I get my pension and I get nothing else.
“I went to the supermarket on Sunday and it opens at 10am.
“I arrived at 8:40 am and waited an hour.
“I can’t go now, I have to plan ahead because you could go and have 300 people in front of you.
“When I got out the other day, the whole road was blocked with people lining up for gas at the Morrisons gas station.
“If I can’t buy gas and the weather is bad, it may mean I can’t go out.
“I haven’t had a bill for my gas yet – God knows what it will be.
“Why are they just putting it in place? It’s not our fault – it’s crazy.
“I’m about to manage at the moment and guess I’ll find out when I get the bill right before Christmas – Great.”
In the next block at Uvedale House, unemployed Vicky Derbyshire, 45, says she has been looking for a job since the lockdown.
Puzzled at being questioned, she said in surprise, “People don’t normally ask us how we are or how we feel.”
Vicky, who has a learning disability and was widowed last year, lost her disability allowance and says she manages universal credit.
She says she’s used to budgeting a small amount of money, but sometimes uses the Mustard Tree food bank. The prospect of food shortages, reduced allocations and rising energy prices weigh on her.
“Nobody wants that,” she said.
“I have been looking for a job since we got out of containment, but a lot of places have closed.”
Across the road, just off Trafford Road, are high rise buildings, built in the 1960s and £ 3.8million refurbished in 2014.
Resident Shirley Kearney, 63, is a nursing assistant on the Moor Side unit at Trafford General, lives in Engels House.
During the lockdown, she was protecting herself due to health concerns and says she received her base pay with no “improvements” – like extra pay for work on weekends and late nights.
As a result, she was losing £ 800 per month but says she was not eligible for universal credit.
“You work hard all your life, and that’s a simple no.” she says. “My salary has gone down but my financial commitments have remained the same.”
If Shirley could have claimed universal credit, she says the £ 20 increase would have covered her electricity for a week.
Concerned about rising energy prices, she says she tried to get a smart meter, but was told that was not possible due to the position of the meter and the wi-fi signal.
She says she blames the government and Brexit for fears of food and oil shortages.
“No other country suffers like us,” she said.
“They don’t have all of these issues with food coming off the shelves and fuel shortages. It’s clearly due to Brexit.
“The government thinks we are thick.”
Shirley says she worries about the younger generation.
“Why are they going to college? she asks.
But she also feels that retirees and taxpayers are caught off guard.
“We have suffered from having to wait 66 years to retire now instead of 60 and now they are insulting us by making us pay 1.5% to the NHS.
“I feel very ripped off by the government.
“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. I think retirees are penalized.
“I feel like everything is getting worse … it’s just a very dark future.”
Rebecca Watson, 17, works in the hospitality industry and lives in the neighboring Wade yard with her grandparents.
As a teenager, she says she doesn’t feel affected by any changes yet, but worries about her grandparents.
“It worries me that there may be a shortage of food in the future,” she says.
If there is no gasoline my grandpa will not be able to go to work, there will be no income and you will find yourself in a massive cycle of not being able to do what you want to do. “
Seven miles away at Miles Platting, residents of Butler Court raise similar concerns.
The Manchester Evening News visited Butler Court in May 2020, when residents told us about their feeling of isolation during the pandemic. More than a year later, and residents who stop to speak have little hope for the future.
Former Merchant Seaman Michael Bancroft, 67, said: “I got into debt with Universal Credit.
“My benefits stopped and I didn’t know about it.”
Michael, who takes care of his ex-wife full-time, said stopping her benefits during the Universal Credit settlement left him six months in rent arrears and £ 1,000 in debt.
After all, what Michael says, he was finally told he was not eligible for universal credit and was put on the state pension. Her ex, who is eligible, will lose the £ 20 markup.
Another concern of Michael is the rising prices of gas and electricity.
“I was led to believe that we could make a change to our gas and electricity supply, but we couldn’t change or get a smart meter.
“People still feel isolated in the tower.
“It’s like a ghost town, it wasn’t great even before Covid – people just sat like zombies.
“Nobody says or says hello to each other – it’s like, ‘What are they looking for?
“I made a few friends here, but found out later that they were dead and no one told me – so I couldn’t attend their funeral.
“I’m not at all happy with the way it’s going.”
Annette Strain, 56, lives on the 11th floor. When The Manchester Evening News visited her during the lockdown, she explained how she believed the residents of the tower were ‘forgotten’.
Today, she is not optimistic that life will get easier.
“Things are only getting worse,” she said. ” Nothing better.
“And these problems are not going to go away.
“They are here forever now.”