Friday briefing: How high energy bills make life harder for those ‘on the edge’ – in their own words

Good morning. Even in a year where energy prices have dominated the news agenda, this is a significant day: Ofgem, the UK industry regulator, is due to announce a change to the energy price cap – with prices expected to go up from October to an annual maximum of more than £3,500. That number could be a staggering £5,300 by the new year.

For almost anyone, those prices will make a difference to their standard of living. But for the most vulnerable, such exorbitant costs will have a profound impact, and in many cases make an already difficult situation impossible.

In today’s newsletter, we’ll hear from some of those at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis, contributors to the Guardian’s heat or eat diaries, about the struggles they are already facing – and their fears for the immediate future. Here are the headlines.

Five big stories

Education | Headteachers in England are calling on ministers to delay the return of pre-pandemic exam conditions for another year, after GCSE results showed a disturbing gap in attainment between pupils in the north and south. Ukraine | Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the world narrowly avoided a “radiation disaster” as the last regular line supplying electricity to Ukraine’s Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was restored hours after being cut by shelling. Health | The health secretary has been confronted outside a hospital by a woman who angrily criticised the government for doing “bugger all” to fix record-high ambulance wait times. Steve Barclay was told the Conservatives had had “long enough” to fix the NHS by a visibly angry member of the public. Crime | Police say they have identified the second man seen fleeing the gunman who shot dead nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel. They said there had been “a number of very positive lines of inquiry” that could lead to identifying the gunman, who is still at large. Lobbying | A Conservative hereditary peer, the Earl of Shrewsbury, is under investigation for a second time by the House of Lords standards watchdog over allegations that he misused his parliamentary position to lobby for a firm that was paying him.

In depth: ‘I’m living on the edge of my nerves. And this is making it so much worse’

Illustration: Eleanor Bannister/The Guardian

The price cap system was introduced in January 2019. It covers the vast majority of households in the UK – about 24m – and limits energy supplier profits to 1.9%. The system was introduced to provide some protection to consumers who might otherwise face exorbitant rises if they don’t shop around.

Despite its name, the energy price cap isn’t an absolute limit: instead, it sets out the limit on average bills that a supplier can charge. In October last year, that figure stood at £1,300. In April, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent increase in costs to suppliers, it went up to £2,000. But today’s announcement is the start of another chapter, an era unlike any most billpayers have previously experienced.

Last week, the Guardian reported on research estimating that 18m families – 45 million people – are likely to be trapped in fuel poverty, defined as having energy costs above 10% of net income, by January. Amid intensifying warnings that many will simply be unable to pay, Liz Truss, the likely next prime minister, has been criticised for an inadequate response. This morning, several newspapers report that she has accepted that she must go further – but at a debate with Rishi Sunak last night she reiterated her reluctance to “bung more money” at the worst-off. Meanwhile, Labour repeated its call for an emergency budget to address the crisis.

But many people are already desperate. Since June, the Guardian’s heat or eat diarists have been telling stories of the appalling choices these changes have brought to their lives. In these extracts from a set of pieces which you’ll find on the website later today, three contributors explain how Ofgem’s announcement will affect their lives.

Liz: ‘There’s no way I can even begin to think about how I could pay it’

They’ve been talking about it for weeks now. And every time they do I shit myself. Almost literally. But talking about it is still different from it actually happening. Well, not any more. This is the day. The energy price cap rise is here. There is simply no way I can even begin to think about how I could pay it. It’s a non-starter. So what do people like me do? Answers on a postcard please to Liz at Ain’t Got A Bleeding Clue Lane.

Last October my bill went up to around £1,200 a year. As a single mum of two youngsters, getting no help from their dads, working part-time because of my disabilities, it was unaffordable. That’s when I decided I better get a meter, and pay upfront. You know what’s most disgusting? People like me who pay on meters are charged a higher rate.

I’m living on the edge of my nerves. And this is making it so much worse. I never thought I’d say this, but thankfully I have an auto-immune illness. That puts me into the vulnerable category. I need to get a letter from my doctor so they don’t switch me off. That’s the back-up plan if my provider decides to play silly buggers with us.

Siobhan: ‘There’s nothing more I can give up at this point. I can’t live any less’

There’s nothing more I can do to save energy – we’re already frugal because we’re already poor! We already don’t leave lights on. We don’t leave devices on or plugged in. I’ll always put on a jumper instead of turning up the heating. When it gets to real winter, we have the thermostat set at about 13. We use hot-water bottles, blankets, jumpers, big socks. I don’t cook meals or have the oven on much of the time. I’ll microwave noodles. I already only wash my hair once a week. I can’t go out any less than I do already. I can’t drink less – I barely ever drink now anyway. There’s nothing more I can give up at this point. I can’t live any less.

It’s a niggling worry that never goes away – although in some ways it’s just a more intense version of what life is always like when you’re poor. On one level, it’s novel that for once, everyone is in the same boat.

But then there’s rage. We have a zombie government and two possible leaders who will never have to live with this. They have never been poor. They’ve never even played at being poor!

One thing I can’t stand is any advice from MPs or “experts” on how to save money. I don’t want to be told how to cook or what I should buy for 30p, or ways to keep warm. Why do they think they can be poor better than I can? I’ve had it for a lifetime.

Sophie: ‘The heating won’t be going on until it’s cold enough to see my breath’

This winter, I’ll be wearing an extra jumper and the heating won’t be going on until it’s cold enough to see my breath. Even then, it will be timed to go on when I’ve done a wash and I need to dry laundry. The reality is life is going to get a lot more harsh. At the moment I’m paying £95 a month, and a few months back it was £66. I’m just about covering my bills and I don’t know what happens when the changes hit.

I’ve lived on benefits for years and I’ve never felt poor but actually, I am at the point where I’m thinking: is it cheaper to do a small wash or one big wash?Things I would have done a few months ago without much thought now feel like luxuries.

Today I had cold rice pudding because I didn’t want to use the microwave. When I boil the kettle, I fill a flask up, so I can have another cup of tea later or some instant soup for lunch. The other day, I boiled some eggs in the same pan I was cooking pasta.

Today, I got absolutely soaked in the rain but I don’t use my hairdryer any more. In January, when it’s pouring with rain, normally the heating would go on, and I’ll hang my bag and coat on the radiator to dry them out. Not this winter. I’ll stuff them with newspaper and hope they don’t go a funny colour or start to smell. I know how many steps there are in my house and how to get around in the dark, so I don’t need to put the lights on. These are the realities of this price increase.

What else we’ve been reading

Michael Cragg hails the return of Britney Spears , whose comeback single Hold Me Closer (a duet with Elton John) is a sign of “what could have been if Spears’ megawatt pop-superstar shine hadn’t been dimmed”. Hannah J Davies, deputy editor, newsletters

Broadcaster Emily Maitlis delivered an excoriating lecture this week on the state of the BBC , criticising “both sidesism”, the “pacifying” of government officials and interference from “an agent of the Tory party” at her former employer. Charlie Lindlar, production editor, newsletters

Not an article but, as is occasionally customary here, a podcast recommendation for Decoder Ring . This series on cultural mysteries recently wrapped its latest season, and with episodes like “the most famous poet no one remembers” and “the first alien abductees”, it’s hard to resist. Hannah

With one last major tournament left before Serena Williams’ retirement , Andrew Lawrence wonders how far the tennis great may go at the US Open. Be warned, you would “have to be a fool to count her out”. Charlie

Alexis Petridis has ranked Robbie Williams’ 20 greatest songs and it’s a total treat (even though I would’ve put Strong at number one). Hannah


Cricket | England took charge of the second Test against South Africa in Manchester, bowling the tourists out for 151 before reaching 111-3 at the close. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad took three wickets each while Jonny Bairstow was 38 not out.

Football | Rangers will face Liverpool on their return to the Champions League for the first time in 12 years after being drawn against Jürgen Klopp’s side in Group A, while Erling Haaland is set to play former club Borussia Dortmund for Manchester City.

Tennis | Novak Djokovic has announced that he will not play at the US Open due to his vaccine status. Djokovic also missed the Australian Open this year, after a lengthy row over Covid rules.

The front pages

Guardian front page, 26 August 2022 Photograph: Guardian

This morning’s Guardian leads with “Gap in GCSE results brings fresh warnings over Covid”. The i says “UK hit by record hike in energy prices”, while the Telegraph promises “New PM will offer urgent help with bills” and the Times has “Truss plans big package to help with energy bills” – similarly the Daily Mail says “Truss: I’ll get you through the energy bill crisis”. “Queen will see you noo, PM” – the Sun attempts a Scottish accent because her majesty will appoint Boris Johnson’s successor at Balmoral. “Cost of ‘broken’ asylum system surges to £2bn” – today’s Daily Express splash. “Sort it out!” – that’s the Metro after a woman heckled the health secretary, Steve Barclay, about the state of the NHS. The lead story in the Financial Times is “Truss weighs triggering Article 16 to buy time on N Ireland protocol”. “Who took our baby away from us?” – the family of murdered Olivia Pratt-Korbel speak out in the Daily Mirror.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas star in Official Competition. Photograph: Samantha Lopez


Mo (Netflix)

Mo (played by Mohammed Amer) is a Palestinian American Muslim now living undocumented in Houston, Texas. Created by Amer and fellow comedian Ramy Youssef, who worked together on Ramy – a comedy-drama about a first-generation Egyptian American Muslim – Mo is detailed, warm and moving, as well as being very, very funny. Lucy Mangan


Kenny Beats – Louie

Beats – the hip-hop producer whose CV ranges from Vince Staples to Slowthai – uses obscure 70s soul as the main sample source for his solo debut, inspired by compilation tapes that his father made in the 90s. Strange but hooky, sonically unified but constantly changing, he drives at a subtly emotional effect.

– Alexis Petridis


Official Competition (general release/Curzon Home Cinema)

It’s both clever and entertaining to cast screen goddess Penélope Cruz as a superstar film director. In this playful satire – also starring Antonio Banderas – Argentinian film-making duo Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat give her all the power as a borderline tyrannical auteur. Wearing a massive curly wig, Cruz gives a deliciously fun performance. – Peter Bradshaw


Who Was Michael X (BBC Sounds)

This immersive podcast tells the intriguing story of the Trinidad and Tobago-born Michael de Freitas, who grew up to become Black Power leader Michael X in 60s London. Hamza Salmi goes back to his beginnings, speaking to experts while also using dramatised snippets to bring the story to life. – Hollie Richardson

Today in Focus

Photograph: Guardian Video

Revisited: Searching for the shadow man (part 1)

Leaked footage documenting the 2013 execution of dozens of Syrian civilians led two genocide researchers on a painstaking search over three years to find the man responsible. The first of a two-part special

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

Illustration: Ben Jennings/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Derek Skipper, age 92, who has just received his GCSE Maths results. Photograph: James Linsell-Clark/SWNS

If you’re wondering if it’s too late for a second act, consider this: a 92-year-old man has just passed a GCSE exam after receiving the highest possible grade in his maths paper.

Derek Skipper, from Orwell in Cambridgeshire, may be the oldest person in Britain to ever gain a GCSE. Feeling that he had never fully got to grips with maths as a child, he sat a foundation level exam earlier this year, in a hall full of teenagers. He found out on Thursday morning he had achieved a level 5 (equivalent to a lower B), and professed himself “delighted”.

He used a magnifying glass to help him see the paper because of his poor eyesight, and took along a slide rule he had used when he sat his maths exams at school in 1946. ““Maths is a wonderful thing and it is very easy to say you are no good at it,” he said. “Any opportunity to learn and embrace it, great.”

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Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until Monday.