Tips for Covid long haulers worried about the cost of living rises

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

The last few months have seen prices jump distressingly across several areas of household budgets. Threats of further increases are a source of worry and hardship to many, particularly for those whose finances are already tight. Stories of fuel and food poverty have become sadly familiar, ranging from people having to choose between eating or heating, to keyworkers being unable to afford to travel to work. As the colder part of the year approaches along with another energy bill rise, families and individuals across the UK face concerns about what further pressures the cost of living crisis will bring them - and how they will cope.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already impacted heavily on lower-income households, as well as those with long-term illness or disability. For those living with Long Covid who have had to give up or reduce employment, finances may already feel stretched and stressful after this unprecedented, difficult time. If you’re worried about money, you’re far from alone: a third of households have reported that thinking about their financial situation makes them feel that way. Although the cost of living rises are unfortunately unavoidable, here are some tips for optimising your health and your finances this winter.

No one should have to go hungry

With grocery prices rising, it might seem hard to eat well. Although good nutrition strongly benefits health outcomes, fresh food and other healthy options can often be frustratingly more expensive. Additionally, if you struggle with fatigue as part of your Long Covid symptoms, then cooking a meal may be a huge hurdle to eating as you would like to. 

  • Special offers often seem a thrifty option, but only go for multi-buy deals on foods that you know you’ll use up before the best before date. (Especially if the product isn’t freezer-friendly). 

  • If there are days when you have more energy, try batch cooking. Vegetables getting past fresh lend well to being chopped up and put in a soup, or roasted. Soups are perfect for storing in the freezer for when you’re low on time, money, and/or energy. They’ll also warm your body on cold days when you want to stave off turning the heating on.

  • If you are able to get out to parks, other urban green spaces, or more rural environments then Autumn is an ideal time for foraging for free wild food – if you feel confident around plant ID. Follow the UK foraging code of conduct whilst also allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors.

  • Jack Monroe has written several books full of inventive and nutritious budget recipes. A dedicated anti-poverty campaigner, she also has many recipes available on her blog for free. Many are low-effort to prepare or are designed not to use much cooking fuel.

  • This page of The Trussell Trust’s website tells you how you can access help from a foodbank, and where to find your nearest one.

Check that you’re claiming all you’re entitled to

The Trussell Trust also has a benefits calculator page and a grants search page where you can make sure that you’re getting all the financial help that you can. For example, residents of some areas of the UK can apply for a cold weather payment towards their heating bills, if they meet other criteria, and those who own their own homes might be able to get Support for Mortgage Interest.

  • Those on low incomes, or meeting certain other criteria, may qualify for the Warm Homes Discount. Find out more here, or contact your energy supplier.

  • If you – or someone that you care for – is entitled to certain benefits or tax credits, you may be eligible for an additional Cost of Living payment from the government this autumn.

  • Individual councils have their own household support funds to help those on lower incomes. The exact support available varies between local authorities, so you will need to contact your council about this.

  • Families can check that they are receiving all the help with childcare costs that they are eligible for here. Children entitled to free school meals may also be able to access school trips and some school clubs for free. Some areas have toy libraries, enabling you to inexpensively keep your child’s selection of things to play with fresh and interesting, whilst many council libraries offer toddler groups and school holiday activities for little or zero charge.

  • If you work from home, you may be eligible for help towards your household costs via tax relief.

  • This NHS page explains different schemes available to help with healthcare costs. There are also various charity disability grants that can be applied for; see the Trussel Trust link above, or here.

  • For more information on financial help, see this Help for Households page from the government, as well as this page from Citizen’s Advice.

Protect your mental health

Whilst it’s understandable to feel stressed and worried about the cost of living rises, it’s also important to take care of your mental health. Checking through the various ways that you can save money or claim help can seem stressful, complicated and overwhelming; try making a list and aim to research/apply for just one or two a day. Tick when done! If you struggle with brain-fog, or find the benefits system confusing, consider asking a trusted friend, or Citizens Advice, to help you navigate it.

Stress can impact other areas of your health, so making your self-care strategies a priority is a worthwhile wellbeing investment. This Harvard Health article also lists six relaxation techniques that don’t need to cost you anything, or take more than a few minutes.

If stress or anxiety continue to be a problem for you, your GP may be able to offer a referral for CBT-based help around this, or talk to you about medication that might help.

Talk to your GP – and others

Your GP may also be able to refer or signpost you to other sources of support for those on low incomes, or experiencing stress – as well as for any Long Covid support in your area. It’s also important for GPs to know their patients’ sources of stress, particularly when stress is affecting other areas of their health, as they are often surveyed through (anonymised) polls on the issues being brought to their surgeries.

It can be hard to talk about financial difficulties, and not uncommon to avoid doing so because of shame, stigma or embarrassment. However, talking about your feelings has been shown to reduce their intensity. Many people are feeling anxious about their finances right now, and you may find that breaking the silence on this with someone you trust brings mutual relief and support. Online forums, such as the Covid Aid community, may enable you to connect with others facing similar difficulties who can empathise with – and perhaps offer suggestions for – yours.

If you have no-one that you feel comfortable opening up to, SupportLine provide confidential listening, advice and emotional support via phone, email or post.

Take as many energy-saving measures as you can

The UK is said to have some of the most poorly insulated housing in Europe, and this impacts significantly upon our energy usage. Older people, children and those with certain conditions face health risks from living in cold homes, whilst many people with neurological conditions also report that their symptoms are exacerbated by lower temperatures. 

  • The Energy Saving Trust website has tips for saving energy at home.

  • MoneySavingExpert (Martin Lewis) also has energy-saving advice, as well as a lot of other information and support around optimising your finances.

  • You can also contact your energy provider for suggestions to reduce your bills – including if you are having trouble paying them.

If you do find yourself in debt

If your finances do slip into the red, help is available through debt advice organisations such as Stepchange, or through Citizens Advice. Both advise seeking help with debt as soon as possible, rather than ignoring or avoiding it, and are very experienced around helping people in financial difficulty. Turn2us helps people in financial need gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help – online, by phone and face to face through partner organisations.

Concerns about how the cost of living rises will affect those on low incomes, and with health problems, are being voiced across society. If you’re facing difficulties, you’re far from alone. Exploring the various avenues of potential help can itself seem daunting and heavy-going. But starting now – perhaps by making a list of those you think you can feasibly do – can help you pace yourself and prepare.

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