What An American In The UK Thinks About The Cost Of Living Crisis
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"Obviously no price rise is ideal, but if nothing else at least you guys have a few choices when it comes to where you spend your money."
As a 25-year-old New Yorker who moved to the UK last year, Luke had just about got used to the cost of American living when he had to learn everything again from a British point of view.
Now he's faced with the rising cost of living in the UK; seeing increases to his energy bills, food shops and domestic travel.
The visual effects artist currently works from home, meaning he doesn't have any commuting costs, but like many Brits who are still working from home, all the energy he uses to make his mid-morning coffee, heat up leftovers at lunchtime and simply power his computer to allow him to do his job are reflected in energy bills that rose this month by £50 ($65) as a result of the rising energy price cap.
Today, the UK household energy price cap is rising by 54%, potentially putting 8.5m homes in fuel poverty— Simon Evans (@DrSimEvans) April 1, 2022
Bills are up 73% in a year
It is overwhelmingly – roughly 95% – due to high gas prices, inc supplier failure caused by high gas priceshttps://t.co/V2wefGvdy7 pic.twitter.com/TPX5XpdftY
"I'm having to make changes to my daily life for things I usually took for granted. In America we don't have switches on our plug sockets so we don't think about the passive cost of energy for having plugs running, but now I find myself running around the house switching off all the plugs before I leave the house," he said.
When living alone in a one-bed flat in Atlanta, Luke's monthly rent set him back $1,100 (£853), while his bills amounted to roughly $300 (£232). Luke now splits the bills with his girlfriend, and though a mortgage of £400pcm has reduced his overall outgoings bills for water, electricity, council tax and internet amounted to more than £350 before the energy price rise.
In recent weeks, the pair have found themselves having to add more into their joint bank account to cover the cost of their food shopping – despite always sticking to the basics and the reduced section.
"Don't even get me started on the price increase to a meal deal," he said. Not having had access to such a beloved British lunchtime staple in the states, Luke enjoyed knowing exactly how much his sandwich, snack and drink was going to cost and revelled in the lack of sales tax added at the till. His regular choice has now gone up by 50p (60 cents) – not a massive amount in the grand scheme of things, but enough to make a difference when it's a fairly regular purchase.
"The meal deal increase does depend where you go, and at least living in Manchester I know I'm always within walking distance of a few other options. Where I grew up in upstate New York, unless you were at a strip mall you'd have to drive to get from one place to the next, so any money you might hope to save by going elsewhere would go straight into your gas tank."
Living just outside Manchester city centre, Luke is within walking distance to most places in the city and is able to utilise public transport to get elsewhere. Though many US cities are filled with buses and subways, his hometown of Binghamton, New York didn't offer such easy access, meaning the majority of people would struggle to get around without using a car of their own or forking out money for taxis.
"I like that I have the option of using public transport – you don't have to have a car to survive, but I've heard people complaining about the increase to train prices, which sucks. You can't avoid having to get to work, but I do appreciate that in England, at least in my experience, there are usually a few different modes of transport to choose from."
Travel is a relatively common thing for Brits, whether it's venturing to another part of the country to see family, hopping on a train for a weekend getaway or securing a £19.99 ($26) flight to a European city for a weekend getaway. In the US, however, Luke jokes 'plane fares from America to Europe are so expensive because they don't want us to see the rest of the world'.
International flights typically cost upwards of £1,000 ($1,300) for Americans, and if you're not willing to spend hundreds of miles on the road to cross between states – as Luke once did while moving for a job – then pretty much the only other option is to fly.
"You have to fly from a regional airport to a main hub and then to your destination, instead of being in reasonable driving distance of main airports as seems pretty common in the UK – you don't really have the same options."
It would take Luke four hours if he were to drive from one of his hometown's closest regional airports to New York City – despite them both being in the same state. A one-way, one-hour flight for the same trip costs £83 ($108) – more than many of our own flights travelling to different countries, though not too dissimilar to the cost of cross-country trains in the UK.
"Prices might not be so different between domestic flights in the US and train travel in England, but again there's the whole thing of getting to the airport, going through security – trains you just show up and get on. And here, you still have the option of driving, flying somewhere closer or getting those buses that cost like £5 ($6) (such as a Megabus). A bus to New York City for me would cost like $30 (£22)."
Lack of choice is also an issue for many Americans when it comes to energy. While some Brits have sought to move to cheaper suppliers amid rising costs, there are 20 states in which residents have no say over who their money goes to, according to the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers. As a result, there is no hope of seeking out cheaper deals during inflation periods.
One thing that has remained a constant amid the current cost of living crisis is the access to free healthcare through the NHS, and for that Luke will always be grateful.
"It's a weight off my shoulders not having to worry about it. In the US most people get their insurance through their employers and the payment for that comes out of their paycheque. So they're still paying an arm and leg, and then if they lose their job, they lose their insurance – that's if they get it in the first place."
Luke recalled one instance in which he fell on a grill at work and got second degree burns. He had insurance at the time, but would still have had to pay $300 (£228) out of pocket if he were to call an ambulance. Instead, he called a friend to come and pick him up after his managers declined to take him to hospital.
"When I got a job in England, I got private healthcare given to me as a benefit at no added expense. I know not everyone gets that, but then there's always the NHS to rely on. I like knowing that if I were to fall and break my arm tomorrow, I don't risk bankrupting myself or going into medical debt – do Brits know what medical debt is?"
In terms of the immediate future, Luke plans to continue making small changes to his daily life to try and offset the increasing cost of living, though he noted there are other players who should take more responsibility when it comes to issues with supply and demand.
"I hope [the crisis] urges the West to get itself off fossil fuels of Russian origin, and that it doesn't remain a crisis. It's clear something needs to be done, and individuals can only do so much. It's all well and good that I run around turning off my plug switches, but it's more disheartening when I see empty skyscrapers with their lights on all night. The issue is a lot bigger than you or me and it's rough that we're the ones literally having to pay for it.
"I just want my lunch to be £3 again, to be honest."