Cost of living causing IBS flares, missed prescriptions and empty fridges across Hertfordshire
By Will Durant - Local Democracy Reporter
18th Mar 2023 | Local News
'Cost of living causing IBS flares, missed prescriptions and empty fridges'
IBS flares, missed prescriptions and an inability to afford gluten free food are symptoms of the cost of living crisis, the county council has heard.
Independent patient advocacy group Healthwatch and Hertfordshire County Council's HertsHelp coordinators told politicians support services are under significant pressure as a result of rising prices.
As part of the County Hall discussion on Wednesday, March 15, council staff said the Money Advice Unit in Hertfordshire had received 4,810 in the financial year to date – which ends in April.
This is up from 4,319 in the whole of 2021/22.
Geoff Brown, Healthwatch Hertfordshire chief executive, said a cost of living survey of more than 4,600 county respondents so far found rising costs are disproportionately affecting single parents, people with a disability, carers, Asian or Asian-British families and women.
"My son is Type 1 diabetic and we had to cancel an appointment recently as I didn't have the funds to spare to get a bus to hospital," one single parent said.
According to the survey, 91 per cent of single parents used less heating, while 90 per cent reduced the amount or quality of their food.
Overall, 69 per cent of parents are affected a lot and struggling, with a further 30 per cent affected a bit, but managing.
A carer said: "I'm the main carer for my young kids and elderly parents and I'm not able to look after them properly and there is no financial or social help available."
Of the carers who took part in the survey, 61 per cent said the cost of living crisis has affected them a little bit, but are managing, while 35 per cent said it had affected them a lot.
Of the women surveyed, 42 per cent of women said they do not have enough, or have just enough, for basic necessities, compared with 28 per cent of men.
One person said they rely on inhalers during the winter to deal with their asthma – one of the 17 per cent surveyed who said they spent less on medications, prescriptions or mobility equipment.
"I've cut down on my dosage to make them last longer," they said.
Another person with a long-term condition said they missed "not being able to buy gluten free food for my dietary requirements".
Councillors at the March 15 meeting heard government's position on support is evolving – and it evolved again during the meeting when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled the Spring Budget 2023 after the meeting, including a fuel duties freeze, pub pint tax freeze, an extension to the energy price cap, and 30 hours per week of free childcare for "eligible working parents" aged nine months to three years for 38 weeks in the year.
Hertfordshire County Council directs residents to support services through its HertsHelp portal, and runs a database of warm spaces.
Councillor Dee Hart (Con, Waltham Cross), who chaired the meeting, said afterwards: "I am extremely proud of the response that Hertfordshire County Council has made regarding the cost of living crisis – working with the Money Advice Unit, Citizens Advice Bureau, Healthwatch and a whole range of organisations.
"There are a number of things in place to make sure we are supporting residents.
"We have been working proactively, not reactively, and have been working very closely with all our partners – we have a good relationship with them – to support people across the county.
"We will keep checking how well we are responding to the cost of living crisis, and debate a final report on our response in six months' time."
Cllr Chris Lloyd (LD, Croxley) said: "I think there are challenges for a lot of people, I have no doubt.
"I think it is good to see the government has extended the energy price cap, but this is going to affect different people in different ways, which we are looking at closely.
"A lot of people do not like to say when they have got a problem, and people are shy to come forward, but it is important that people who are finding it difficult come forward, contact organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau and find the tailored support they need."
Cllr Nigel Bell (Lab, West Watford) said: "The information we have is very instructive.
"It shows us we have to continue supporting our residents through the excellent organisations such as Citizens Advice and HertsHelp.
"A lot of people know about services such as warm spaces and foodbanks, but we as councillors need to do a better job at signposting residents to them, and making sure they have the right funding.
"The other problem is a shortfall of volunteers, so it is important we all push to get involved in supporting our neighbours and residents where we can."