/ 8 May 2023

African immigrants in UK reeling from cost-of-living crisis

Cost Of Living
Africans living in the United Kingdom have been hard hit by the cost-of-living crisis experienced in the country since late 2021. (Getty Images)

Africans living in the United Kingdom have been hard hit by the cost-of-living crisis experienced in the country since late 2021, with some saying they have had to skip meals to pay bills, and almost 30% making use of a food bank in the past year.

According to the Cost-of-Living Report released this month by BHM UK, “Many Africans in the UK are struggling to afford basic needs such as housing, food and energy and are desperately seeking financial support, as inflation upsets the economy.”

The company surveyed 1 278 Africans immigrants, who stated that their top concerns as a result of increased overheads were job security, monthly payment of bills, housing, clearing debts and security in retirement.

A total of 77.3% of those surveyed support friends and family in Africa, with 75% saying they had “issues” with “keeping up with such responsibilities”.  

About 2.5% (1.4 million) of the population of England and Wales are estimated to be of African origin, according to the government’s ethnicity facts and figures research.  

Most of the BHM respondents (73.1%) are employed in full or part-time work and have lived in the UK for less than five years, with 84% saying they do not claim any form of credit from the government.

According to financial and immigration advice and services company Sable International, immigrants can access public funds — conditionally — for state-funded schooling, child benefits and state housing.

The BHM report, however, found the public funds were “either insufficient or often inaccessible”.

“Almost 60% of those surveyed have turned to family for financial support in recent times, while 44.5% admit to borrowing to pay for everyday needs. As the crisis bites deeper, several participants say they have had to cut down on essentials to survive,” said BHM.

Within the expatriate community, at least 28% of respondents said they struggled to afford gas monthly, 69.4% planned to reduce the use of power, while 47% of participants had to miss meals so they could pay bills. Just under 70% were planning to reduce their power use, and 24.4% said they were planning to “cut down on essentials like foods”.

 The UK’s annual rate of inflation rose to a 42-year high in October 2022, peaking at 11.1%. Although it has eased in subsequent months, it spiked at 10.1% in March.  

The government said in a research brief last month: “Increases in the costs of consumer goods, underpinned by strong demand from consumers and supply chain bottlenecks, have been factors causing rising inflation in 2021 and 2022. Food prices have also been rising sharply over the past year and were 19.1% higher in March 2023 compared with a year before, a 45-year high.”

Energy prices also drove inflation, according to the research brief, as household energy tariffs and road fuel costs increased. “From March 2022 to March 2023, domestic gas prices increased by 129% and domestic electricity prices by 67%.”

Gas prices, which are linked to electricity prices, increased to record levels in 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Electricity prices followed the trend. But prior to this, the pandemic-related recession had also taken its toll. As soon as the pandemic slowed down, demand for products and materials increased.

About 48% of the respondents of the BHM survey said they “feel worse off” than a year ago.

“It’s becoming harder to live in a country that was meant to be easier and better, as the cost of every product is going up,” said one respondent.

According to BHM: “The African community’s experiences revolve around critical challenges and concerns including lack of job security, unaffordable housing, and mounting debt. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 25% of respondents have had to opt out of their workplace pension, risking retirement security.”

The latest information from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), for the period 19 April to 1 May 2023, found that adults in the country listed the most important issues in the UK as the cost of living (93%), National Health Service (87%), economy (73%), and climate change and the environment (61%).

 “Around half of adults reported that they were worried about the cost of food (51%) and the cost of energy (48%) in the past two weeks, with around a third (33%) worried about their general health,” said the ONS.

“Around seven in 10 (70%) adults reported their cost of living had increased compared with a month ago.”

In February, The Guardian reported that 90% of the UK’s food banks surveyed by the Independent Food Aid Network had experienced “increased demand December 2022 and January 2023 compared with a year earlier”.

“Half of the 85 organisations running 154 food banks that responded said if demand rose further they would either have to cut support or turn people away,” according to the article.