Middle-class families in Britain at risk of poverty as cost-of-living crisis hits, says scholar

Middle-class families in Britain have been running a risk of falling into poverty because of the massive rise in utility bills and the cost-of-living crisis.

Middle-class families in Britain have been running a risk of falling into poverty because of the massive rise in utility bills and the cost-of-living crisis, an academic in Scotland has told Xinhua.

"We haven't seen what we are experiencing now since the days of World War Two," said Keith Baker, a research fellow specializing in fuel poverty and energy policy at Glasgow Caledonian University, in a recent interview.

To ease the pain of surging costs, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced in May that around 8 million of the country's poorest families will receive a payment of 650 British pounds (816 US dollars) alongside other supporting measures.

"The measures that he's announced won't actually hit a large number of those people who are in the most severe levels of poverty," Baker said. "What's really concerning now is that when we talk about fuel poverty, we talk about a heat or eat dilemma.

"When we're at the point where it's not going to be heat or eat, we're now getting a lot of people to the point where they're going to be struggling to pay their rent or pay their home mortgages," the expert said. "So we are into really quite scary territory, and what the government has done is an absolute drop in the ocean."

Baker said his biggest fear is that some people may react to the problem by rioting. "At its worst, I honestly don't know how the public will respond," he noted. "I'm not saying I would support rioting, but I would totally understand anybody who is reaching the point where they're broken. What other option do they have?"

For families, particularly with the winter approaching, "we're heading into very scary territory," Baker said.

"Unfortunately, people have been so ground down through the COVID-19 pandemic and Partygate and all the other problems and scandals that have surrounded the government, but they're really just struggling and now we're looking at some significant rises in energy bills," he said.

Britain's energy price cap jumped from 1,277 British pounds to 1,971 pounds per year in April for about 22 million customers. The country's energy regulator warned in May that the cap is expected to rise to around 2,800 pounds per year in October.

Baker said what worries him is potentially many people are to plunge into severe levels of poverty and that could mean some families struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

"Also, there will be a lot of people who've not been in poverty before," he said. "The lower and middle classes are going to be finding themselves in fuel poverty. There are estimates of easily 40 percent of the United Kingdom (UK)population struggling to pay their energy bills by the end of the year. And that is absolutely shocking.

"This really is disaster capitalism UK style. We have an awful lot of people getting very rich off the back of what the government is doing and a large and growing section of the population getting very poor."

Central to the crisis is increasing inflation, heading toward double-digit figures.

"You'd be naive not to expect inflation to increase. So, again, there's another pressure coming. I'm not an economist, but I can only imagine how that feeds into the wider situation of price rises and costs going up across all sections of life," he said.

Baker said his biggest fear is that rising inflation will turn a storm into a hurricane, with fears that energy prices could rise every three to six months for the next couple of years. "What we've got now is just a starter," he added.

What is needed to resolve the problems, said Baker, is changes to the system. "We need a much wider and systematic change, and that should be a move toward some form of universal basic income," he told Xinhua.

As for the future, Baker said people are not prepared. "A lot of people are genuinely worried and actually that itself causes a lot of mental distress, and that can lead to mental health problems and further inabilities to manage their bills," he noted.

Baker said people in fuel poverty often suffer from mental health issues, and "that actually just makes the spiral even worse."

The upcoming problems will not just hit low-income families, according to Baker.

"We could talk about the squeezed middle, talking about a large section of the traditional middle classes effectively being pushed into poverty, the wiping out of the lower to middle classes, leaving only the richest at the top who are basically profiting from the poorest," he said.

"We need a real big restructuring of the economy. The pandemic was a perfect opportunity to do it. That opportunity was lost," Baker said.

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