“We’ve had two bad winters, and luckily we’ve got through it,” Godfrey Ward tells me, “but I don’t think we’ll survive another one.”
Godfrey, 77, and his wife Jeanette Ward, 69, have worked hard all their lives to afford their own home in Wigan.
Now retired, their combined weekly pensions cannot stretch to cover the rising cost of bills and the urgent repairs they need in their home.
Their old boiler is broken and beyond repair so they’ve had no hot water or heating for months.
“It’d cost about £2,000 for a new one,” Jeanette says, “and we can’t afford that.”
“So we don’t have heating, apart from an electric fan heater in one room.”
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The couple has to travel to the house of a nearby relative to get a hot shower but Jeanette says they “don’t like to trouble them” by going too often.
“Money is the thing,” Godfrey stresses, “and I don’t like to ask for anything. If I cannot afford it, I don’t get it”.
“But in the back of my mind, I keep on thinking that if we don’t get help it’ll end up being a care home for us both. But we don’t want that.”
Jeanette shakes her head, hearing her husband say this.
“No,” she says, “no, we don’t want that. We want to stay in our own home, and we couldn’t afford it anyway.”
But as energy prices, food bills and inflation rise, a future in the house where they’ve lived for years, is getting harder to imagine.
Jeanette has asthma and believes living in a cold house over winter contributed to her getting pneumonia twice this year.
She says she feels “bitter” and “angry” that after a life of work, the couple now find themselves struggling.
A nearby weekly lunch club, run by Age UK, is at least a guaranteed hot meal in a warm room.
“We’ll have this soup and sandwich,” Godfrey tells us, “and then just something small for our tea – something from the chippy or a pie.”
“But even the price of a pie has gone up to £2.50, or more,” Jeannette adds.
“We’re just about coping,” she says, “but it’s not easy”.
Sarah Shannon, Deputy Executive, Age UK Wigan Borough says their staff are “run off their feet” with the surge in calls for help.
“These groups are important for so many reasons: it gets people out of the house, they don’t have to have their heating on, they get a nice meal but it’s also the social element, that they get to see people and meet friends.
“Because if you are worried about the cost of going out and things you might not see people and then suffer from loneliness as well, so that just compounds the problem.”
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