‘It feels like a tipping point’: drivers on the soaring petrol and diesel prices

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Prices at the pump continue to climb, with the average cost of a litre of petrol hitting 191.5p on Sunday, while diesel reached 199.0p.

The soaring costs, which have triggered protests by motorists in parts of England and Wales are having serious impacts on incomes, particularly of those living in poorly connected areas.

Here, five people discuss how fuel costs are affecting them.

‘Soon we’ll hit a point where we can no longer cope’

View image in fullscreenDavid Francis. Photograph: David Francis

Twice a week, David Francis, 59, drives between his home in Cornwall and the college in London where he is an assistant principal. Whereas last November the commute used to cost him about £540 in petrol monthly, it has shot up to £770. Along with other rising bills, Francis says he is worried for the future.

“I am increasingly concerned that soon we [will] hit a point where we can no longer cope. And then what? If I am forced to give up my job in London, how will we generate adequate income to live?” He explains that finding employment closer to home is challenging. Francis’s wife works three different jobs to cope with rising costs, while he tutors online three times a week after work.

Francis, who drives to London on Sunday evening and returns to Cornwall on Thursdays, has also considered coming home less, but worries about the impact on his family, especially his 13-year-old son. “Even now, on a Sunday night he’s going: ‘Oh Dad, don’t go.’ He already struggles with it.” The price of railway season tickets, meanwhile, means “coming by train isn’t an option”.

The assistant principal, who earns “decent money”, says he has never been in this situation before. “I’ve worked as a senior manager for 20 years and never have I faced a financial environment like this. You just wonder, what the hell is going on?”

‘I have to choose whether to eat or pay for my commute’

Richard, 45, a full-time NHS healthcare assistant from North Yorkshire, says he is looking for a new job because he struggles finding the money to afford his commute.

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He works 40 to 45 hours a week, and his current hourly pay, he says, is the same as that offered by fast food restaurants.

“In my area transport is expensive and irregular. It’s actually cheaper to use a motorbike or car to get to work than take the bus. Recently we were given a pay rise to £9.65 to get in line with the minimum wage rise. But the cost of fuel is making it so I have to choose whether to eat or pay for fuel to go to work.”

The family of four spend £50 a week on food, paid for by his wife’s wages, while Richard’s salary pays for rent, council tax of £140, and utility bills now totalling £330.

“Two to three months ago I would have a little bit of money left out of my pay packet to do a little bit of what I want to do,” he says. “ Now, I just go to work and come home, and am struggling to pay my bills. If they increase again I won’t be able to pay. It’s getting to the point where I can’t make it work any more.

“I’m thinking of going back to working with people with learning disabilities in the private sector, which is what I did originally. Pay would be £10 to £12 an hour, with less stress and responsibility.

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“We’ve cut back as far as we can cut back, we can’t cut back any more.”

‘It feels like a tipping point’

Annie*, a 28-year-old children’s social worker in the east of England, says rising fuel costs have seriously affected her income as the mileage allowance (45p a mile) has not been increased despite soaring prices at the pump. “Working and living in an area of the country without the option of public transport means having and maintaining a car is a requirement for my job,” she says.

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Whereas a full tank of petrol would cost Annie about £50 to £60 at the end of last year, it is now about £85 to £100. She underlines that fuel costs are just one aspect of the squeeze on social workers’ incomes at the moment: “With social work salaries being cut in real terms, we are also participating in a forced regime of funding getting ourselves to and from the most vulnerable children on behalf of the state.” The social worker says while she is used to spending her own money to take the children she works with to McDonald’s or Starbucks for a treat, the rising cost of fuel feels “like a tipping point”: “I don’t expect to have to subsidise my mileage to get to my job,” she says.

“I love my job so much, and I would do it even though I know I could earn more elsewhere. But why can’t the government cover costs for basic things like the fuel we need to get to those who need us?”

‘Our EV is saving us £2,000 a year’

View image in fullscreenPeter Chinkin. Photograph: Peter Chinkin

Peter Chinkin, 39, scrapped his diesel car at the end of 2020 and took out a second mortgage to buy an electric vehicle (EV). A key reason for the switch was financial: he was spending about £100 monthly on diesel, though he estimates that would be about £150 at today’s prices.

Chinkin, a web developer in Norwich, estimates that the EV is saving his family about £2,000 yearly, including maintenance and vehicle excise duty. “It’s hard not to be really smug with the cost of diesel going up and up and up,” he says, explaining that he mostly charges his vehicle during off-peak electricity times and using solar panels on his roof.

Chinkin, who was able to get a £20,000 loan in order to buy the vehicle, acknowledges that while the savings are large, so is the upfront cost of an EV. “It is down to who can afford it – not everybody has access to cheap credit, certainly in the current climate.”

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‘Running a car became impossible’

View image in fullscreenAlice Palmer took to cycling to work after being unable to afford fuel. Photograph: Alice Palmer/supplied by interviewee

Alice Palmer, 35, who lives in Jersey, gave up driving to work at the start of May after fuel prices became financially untenable. “The amount I was used to paying was only getting me half a tank – I kept running out of fuel and then having to cycle during the last few days of the month before I got paid,” she said.

For the education welfare officer, such a commute – which adds an average of 20 minutes to her journey – was something that was previously off limits. But, as she got fitter, and began to enjoy cycling, the switch up has helped her to manage her depression. “It was never meant to be a win, but it turned into one – my body and mental outlook have changed,” she said.

“I feel for my friends and colleagues who, for whatever reason – childcare, disabilities, and so on – can’t use a bike to get around.” Living on a relatively small island with a decent cycle network, means she is fortunate in other ways too, Palmer admits.

While she does not anticipate being able to afford to run her 22-year-old car again, the winter will prove an obstacle. But having applied for an e-bike through a work scheme, Palmer sees no signs of stopping. “I’ll get some decent waterproofs and a hi-vis and just crack on, there isn’t much choice,” she added.

* This name has been changed

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