Cost of living

Do you have ‘smart meter stress’?

Are you suffering from SMS? Smart meter stress, that is. When we decided recently to accept our energy provider’s offer to install a smart meter, I had no clue how anxiety-inducing the digital display on the little black monitor could be. Smart meters tell us (and our suppliers) how much energy we’re using, minute by minute. In theory they make life easier, helping us identify where we can reduce consumption and sending automatic readings so that we’re less likely to underpay or overpay on our bills. There are already 29.5 million smart meters installed across the UK, and by the end of 2025 every home and office in Britain will have been offered one. But there’s a

A daily shower is money down the drain

When did it become an inalienable human right to have a shower every day? I ask the question because pretty clearly it wasn’t always so. Yes, the Romans had showers – of course they did (they probably had the internet, too, but archaeologists can’t see it). A potter about online will tell you that we got the first mechanical shower here (hand pumped) thanks to the ingenuity of a plumber from Ludgate Hill named William Feetham. That was in 1767, which means that by the time Jane Austen was getting ink on her fingers a shower was an option for some. So the answer to my question is somewhere between 1767, when

Which appliances are pushing up your energy bills?

With the Chancellor confirming that the energy price cap will rise in April, it seems we won’t be taking our eye off our electricity usage any time soon. But while energy saving tips have become a staple of breakfast television shows and small talk, how many of them really add up in practice? The Spectator’s data team has crunched the numbers to see what typical household devices actually cost to run. And the answers are quite surprising. Perhaps you’ve heard the warnings over the past weeks of so-called ‘vampire devices’ – those pesky contraptions which carry on costing you money when you’re not actually using them. You may even be

Why we should be tucking into tongue and turnip

It seems our course is set. Food prices are rising at the fastest rate in more than 40 years, taking the average family’s yearly grocery bill over £5,200 – and there’s no relief in sight. Lord Woolton would be rubbing his hands at a situation so ripe for his ingenuity and optimism – and perhaps his namesake pie and the national loaf might find themselves resuscitated before long. But his 1945 call for ‘a simpler diet’ of bread, potatoes and vegetable oils won’t help much in 2022. According to the Office for National Statistics, ‘low-cost’ everyday staples are seeing the greatest price rises of all, with the average cost increasing by 17 per

A chef’s tips to cut food waste – and your bills

Food waste is suddenly the subject on everyone’s lips. A combination of environmental concern and biting inflation has propelled an issue that was already rising up the public consciousness on to centre stage. Some supermarkets are dropping ‘best before’ labels on fresh produce, and this month the British Frozen Food Federation launched a campaign to highlight the virtues of freezing to save money. The issue even gained a mention in the first televised debate of the Tory leadership contest at the end of July, when Liz Truss stated: ‘I am naturally a thrifty person. I like saving money and it also helps the environment. It’s about using less, wasting less, particularly food

Does Britain care more about pubs than schools?

Politics is about priorities: what do we consider to be important? I worry that Britain doesn’t attach enough importance to children and their education. As the first lockdown eased in the summer of 2020, I was unhappy that pubs reopened before schools. I thought that said something about our priorities as a nation An interview by Liz Truss in New York gives me no reason to change that gloomy view. During the interview, atop the Empire State Building, the PM was naturally keen to talk up the benefits of the energy price support package to be set out on Friday. That package, she was keen to say, will cover not

The truth about cooking with an air fryer

The phone rang, and on the other end of it was my father. ‘We’ve been thinking,’ he announced before we’d even exchanged pleasantries, ‘you need to get an air fryer. It’s the solution to these energy hikes.’ As a chef and writer with a couple of bestselling cookbooks under my belt, I was of course already familiar with the air fryer phenomenon. The countertop gadget, billed as more energy efficient than regular ovens, has been much hyped as a cost-saver as we face a winter of rocketing bills. But I’d quickly dismissed it as a fad. I had seen the chap with the characterful moustache from the Hairy Bikers waxing

The Conservative party is a void

Like the winter of discontent, the summer of 2022 is a season that will burn itself into the national consciousness. Predictions of a dark (in all senses of the word) future are daily occurrences. All but the wealthy wonder how they will cope with the hard times that are almost on us. The sense we’re in a runaway crisis is everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except among the leaders of our self-indulgent government. It has shirked its duty to lead the country and preferred to take a long, lazy holiday instead. For Boris Johnson, a redundant prime minister serving out his notice period, his life consists of Mediterranean jaunts. For Liz

The death of saving

I was intrigued to learn from Tom Daley – that young man who became famous for jumping off a platform into some water – that homophobia is a ‘legacy of colonialism’. The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, begs to differ. He believes that it is homosexuality which is a legacy of colonialism and had been brought to his benighted country by effete whitey – and so he may well think Tom is indulging in the disagreeable act of ‘whitesplaining’. However, it is possible, if not likely, that both Tom and Yoweri are correct – after all, it is difficult to be homophobic if you have around you a complete absence of

Why the Tories must face the truth about energy bills

One influential figure on the centre-left told me recently that he isn’t bothered about who wins the Tory leadership contest. He argued that the tsunami of problems waiting to hit the new leader – rising energy prices, inflation and a creaking NHS, to name but a few – means the Tories will be in trouble regardless of whether it’s Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak who triumphs. These issues are enough to sink any government, but especially one that has been in power for 12 years. Given how Boris Johnson dominated politics, whoever succeeds him will to some extent feel like a fresh start. But they won’t be able to pull

The surprising tricks that can cut your energy bills

We are all facing months of rising bills, with warnings that there may even be blackouts ahead. But all is not lost. Here are ten ways you can cut your energy consumption – and some of them will surprise you… Change your lightbulbs – even the ‘energy saving’ ones. If you still have old-style incandescent lightbulbs in your home – or even the original, fluorescent energy-saving bulbs – you are wasting a fortune. A five-watt LED lightbulb produces as much light as an old-style 60-watt lightbulb does. Lighting constitutes the single biggest proportion of most energy bills on account of how often we have the lights on – so this single change can

The irrational cruelty of the SNP’s nationalism

They can’t build a ferry, organise a census or keep the railways operating, but when it comes to organising a grievance campaign, nobody does it better than the SNP. This week saw perhaps the most impressive effort yet from team grievance as the SNP tried to turn the Chancellor’s announcement of a windfall tax on big oil companies into a Scotland-versus-the-rest-of-the-UK bun fight. Speaking on Sunday, SNP MP Kirsty Blackman complained:  It feels very unfair that Scotland is having to pay for the entirety of the UK. If Scotland was an independent country, the windfall tax would generate £1,800 for every household in Scotland. With most of the UK’s oil

There’s never been a better time to ditch the net zero agenda

The cost of living crisis is confronting Westminster elites with the stark reality of some of the dubious policy choices they’ve recently made. Last week, the government was forced to postpone its ban on buy one get one free deals on ‘junk food’. The foolishness of outlawing cheap food – a policy Boris Johnson adopted after his spell in intensive care – has been laid bare now that inflation has risen to a 40-year high. Soaring energy bills ought to give proponents of eco-austerity similar pause for thought. Dozens of retail energy companies have gone bust in recent months. We are shipping fracked gas from the US while banning the

Gabriel Gavin

Life in an age of hyperinflation

Istanbul, Turkey On Saturday mornings, Istanbul’s markets and greengrocers are packed with housewives in search of a bargain. Anxious women compare cabbages while chefs haggle over bunches of parsley, passing across thick wads of ten Lira notes – equivalent to about £5 a decade ago, now worth just 50 pence. The rising cost of food has become a national obsession in Turkey. Menemen, a staple breakfast dish of scrambled eggs with tomato, onion and fried green peppers, has seen the cost of its basic ingredients shoot up by 132 per cent in a year. Some shops in the big cities have invested in digital price tags – those little grey electronic

Tinkering with the energy price cap won’t fix it

In principle, the UK’s energy price cap is supposed to provide a buffer for consumers who might otherwise see their energy bills go through the roof. But governments can’t control international energy prices: a lesson that has been learned the hard way over the past six months, as dozens of energy companies have gone bust, unable to raise prices for customers to reflect increasing wholesale costs. Meanwhile the cap has not stopped bills from skyrocketing: Ofgem’s last price cap went up by 54 per cent, taking the total cost for an average household to just under £2,000 per year. Still, if there were any silver lining to this distortive policy

How controversial was Basic Instinct?

Stone me Boris Johnson threatened to unleash the ‘terrors of the Earth’ on an unidentified Tory MP who claimed that Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, deliberately crossed and uncrossed her legs to distract the Prime Minister at the dispatch box – in the manner of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. But that was just one way in which the 1992 film caused offence. It was also accused of glorifying violence, portraying negative stereotypes of gay people, making smoking glamorous and exploiting Sharon Stone, who later claimed that she had been tricked into removing her knickers for the offending scene. Let us pay How is the cost of living crisis beginning

Boris Johnson’s cost of living gamble

What can the government do to ease the cost of living crisis? The Chancellor drew criticism in his spring statement for not doing enough – yet there are ministers, such as Kit Malthouse, who take the view the government has already spent too much. At a recent cabinet meeting Malthouse suggested Johnson and Sunak reopen the spending review and make cuts in the face of rising inflation. Cost of living is now viewed as the number one issue in government – as deputy chief of staff David Canzini has briefed aides. Today Boris Johnson is attempting to show he is on the front foot by chairing a cabinet in which

Melanie McDonagh

The surprising middle-class gadget that cuts energy bills

If there’s one company that’s a kind of stock market indicator of the condition of the British middle classes, it’s Lakeland. It specialises in very good household stuff – cleaning and cookware and any number of ingenious gadgets (the catalogues are, I have to say, addictive) – and it has an uncanny knack of registering where popular tastes are going. Its annual Trends report is seized on as an indicator of what normal families are up to, and so it’s proved, on everything from passing trends like the spiraliser (courgette pasta, anyone?) to the inexorable move to recyclables. So, what’s the Lakeland index suggesting now about the British consumer? She

How I finally learned to love my eco-home

Nine years ago, when I invested every-thing I had in a part-rent, part-buy, one-bedroom, government-backed eco-home which proved to be a boiling box in summer, my first instinct was to throw myself out of a window – but I couldn’t because they opened only ten centimetres. My second was to complain about it in The Spectator. Now, I return to update you on my energy bills. Prepare to turn green with envy. Friends who live successful sorts of lives – involving houses, spouses and gardens – exclaim ‘Oh, so you weren’t joking about living in a J.G. Ballard novel?’ when they come around for the book launches I host in

What Rishi Sunak could learn from George Osborne

I was walking last week from Canary Wharf tube station to my flat in east London – not far, little more than a mile, and the walk follows the Thames on the north side, away from traffic: lovely. But as I headed for the river, I saw trouble. A thick curtain of rain had descended over Blackheath across the Thames, and the wind was blowing strongly from that direction. The storm had not yet reached Greenwich, still clear, but the curtain was moving. After Greenwich the rainstorm would cross the river – and hit me. Umbrella-less, I quickened my pace. Few others seemed to have noticed. People were ambling around,