Cost of living: ‘I didn’t eat for five days - this is life now’

Mary didn't eat for five days because she was unable to afford food. (Changing Lives)

Tens of millions of people across the UK are facing devastating increases in the cost of living as experts warn of a winter crisis ahead.

The energy price cap, designed to protect consumers from being overcharged, is set to soar 80% from £1,971 to £3,549 in October - leaving many facing a winter of misery.

The decision from Ofgem came alongside record-breaking inflation - which hit 10.1% in the 12 months to July - means 3 million Britons are now on the brink of being pushed into absolute poverty.

While Liz Truss is set to finalise her plan to deal with the crisis - widely expected to be a freeze on the price cap - for some vulnerable people like Mary, the current situation has already left her unable to afford basic essentials.

Read more: Cost of living: Thousands will die this winter as energy companies 'rake in billions', experts warn

Mary, 47, lives alone in Northumberland and tells Yahoo News UK that going without food is becoming normal for her.

'I've gone without food for five days," she says. "I don't know how you're meant to look after your mental health in that situation."

Mary has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dyspraxia, and autism - she worked as a firefighter before she was forced to quit after getting injured.

After leaving, she opened her own business - but the pandemic forced her to shut it down.

Mary now lives alone in poverty, struggling to pay her bills and at times unable to afford food altogether.

Ofgem confirmed the increase to the energy price cap (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)
Ofgem confirmed the increase to the energy price cap (Yahoo News UK/Flourish)

"I've been so worried for so many months now, it's just an everyday thing - it's just a matter a fact of life," said Mary, who relies on food banks to eat.

"I've got one priority at the moment and that's keeping a roof over my head... [but] I've got to eat or drink and stuff like that, [too]."

Food banks across the UK are under increasing pressure as a rise in demand and a reduction in donations due to the soaring costs of basic essentials leave supplies drying up.

Mary also says the cost of living even forced her out of her home and has isolated her from her family.

"I've had to move house first because I couldn't afford the last house," said Mary.

Read more: The key dates coming up in the cost-of-living crisis

"And I've had to move away from my family, with all of these mental health issues and disabilities that I'm trying to cope with.

"And... now I can't afford to go [because petrol is so expensive]."

New analysis from Shelter in August revealed homelessness increased 11% in the first three months of this year, with a quarter of households homeless or at risk because of the loss of a private tenancy.

And Mary doesn't expect to keep warm this winter, either.

"Last week I had the heating on for one hour or whatever... And I never used my heating last year, and that's before all of these price increases.

"So, I'll do the same this year - blankets."

UK inflation is at its highest level for decades. (ONS CPI)

According to a report by the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE), the UK is facing a “significant humanitarian crisis” over energy bills.

“It’s simply insupportable in Britain in the 21st century to have so many people that are fuel insecure,” said IHE director, Professor Michael Marmot.

“It’s clear we are facing a significant humanitarian crisis with thousands losing their lives and millions of children’s development blighted, leading to inequalities that will last a lifetime.”

Read more: Distraught dinner lady says she's forced to 'taking lunches from hungry children' who have no money

It comes following Liz Truss' victory over Rishi Sunak after a gruelling eight-week Tory leadership contest.

Truss has pledged a wave of tax cuts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, and has also promised a strategy to tackle soaring energy bills - but is yet to outline what it will look like.

Experts have warned tax cuts will not help those most at risk from the rising cost of living - and have called for a more comprehensive package of measures to support low-income households.

Watch: Dinner lady breaks down after having to deny school lunches to up to 15 children a day