Linda Campbell has loved “every minute” of her 12 years as a carer but she doesn’t expect to be in the job much longer. Soaring fuel prices mean she simply won’t be able to keep covering her huge patch of west Wales, she said.
The 69-year-old from Ceredigion drives around 930 miles a month to get to clients’ homes, many of them in isolated rural areas. When we asked if she expects to continue in the long-term, she said: “No, really not. I can’t afford to and that’s the bottom line.”
Linda is far from alone in suffering life-changing consequences from the fuel cost crisis which has seen petrol prices rise by 24p a litre on average (to 182.31p) and diesel by 30p (to 188.05p) since late February. The cost of filling an average family car has reached £100.27 for petrol and £103.43 for diesel as demand for non-Russian crude oil has grown and the pound has struggled against the dollar.
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We have spoken to a carer, driving instructor and taxi driver in Wales about the impact the prices are having on their daily lives. For two of the three, the issue has made them question whether their work is sustainable. You can get more cost of living news and other story updates by subscribing to our newsletters here.
Linda said: “I fill my car up almost every day in case of any eventuality, as I’m out in the middle of nowhere a lot of the time. I’ve gone from spending about £20 to £26 a day on petrol. It’s becoming unsustainable to actually work this job. You get your salary and then 75% of it goes on petrol the following month.
“You think, is it worth it? Well it is in respect of the people I go to visit. Every single minute is worth it because without us they would have to go to hospitals or care homes and there are almost no beds in either. So what are these dear old people supposed to do? But I also need a salary that’s going to support me.”
The 69-year-old works four days a week but often does extra days because of the shortage in carers. She believes the rise in fuel costs will “absolutely” trigger a crisis in social care as more staff leave. “Anything else, quite honestly, would pay more,” she added. “It is a labour of love.” Read here about the reasons why petrol and diesel are so expensive right now.
Linda called for the Government to introduce a fuel discount card for care workers and extend the rural fuel duty relief scheme to parts of Wales. The scheme is designed to ease the burden on people in rural areas where pump prices are higher than average, cutting 5p from the standard fuel duty — but only applies to remote parts of Scotland, the Isles of Scilly and a few areas in England.
“I drive up mountains and through forests to get to people’s homes,” laughed Linda. “While it’s all very beautiful it’s not paying my bills.”
Daniel Thompson from Caldicot has been a taxi driver for 15 years and plans to continue for the foreseeable future, but he described the fuel prices as “harder and harder” to deal with. “I have no intentions on changing my career for the next 20 years, I enjoy working for myself, but I can only do it for as long as it’s sustainable. It may get to a point where I’ve got to say I can’t do it because of the costs — and fuel is the biggest outgoing.”
The 42-year-old has been forced to increase his fares three times in the last year. “I was charging £3.50 for a local Caldicot job, now that’s up to £4.50 and I may have to increase again. Caldicot to Magor was £8, now it’s up to £10 or £12, potentially £16 for the far end of Magor. I have got a lot of elderly customers, and potentially I am their only source of transport. When I have to increase prices it has a massive impact on them.”
Speaking over the phone, Daniel added: “I am with one of them right now, getting her in the car as we speak. I have had to keep her prices the same because I am her main source of mobility and she already spends £200 a week on the taxi.”
The driver recalled that two and a half years ago it cost only £65 to fill his tank, which has since surged to £120. Daniel now spends more than £1,000 a month on diesel. “I’ve just joined Costco over in Bristol because they’re running at 10p a litre cheaper than everywhere else. I try to fill up there when I’m on a Bristol Airport run, but often those are in the early hours and the pump isn’t open.”
The UK Government recently cut fuel duty by 5p a litre but Daniel believes the reduction did not go far enough. He believes policy-makers have failed to grasp the impact of the fuel costs on people’s lives.
Cardiff driving instructor Keith Willicombe said he was having to review lesson prices after “taking a hit” as costs had risen. The 62-year-old, who employs 12 other instructors at Bumps Drivin’s Cool, said: “We haven’t increased prices yet but we’re going to have to really consider it over the weekend.
“The average price for a lesson in Cardiff is £32 to £35 an hour. We’re just below, at £30 to £31. A lot of driving schools, as soon as the cost at the fuel pump went up slightly, have increased their prices. We’ve held back for three or four months now but we’re not making the same profit margin. It’s costing me £35 a week more to fill up than in February.”
Keith does not fear for the future of his business because it has established itself over 17 years, but he expects other instructors will struggle to weather the cost of living crisis and many potential customers will delay getting lessons.
“Heating in the home is going up, food on the shelves is going up and everyone is being squeezed by the current situation,” he said. “The pupil pool is bound to reduce. We are definitely getting fewer calls coming in with people really uncertain about what disposable income they’re going to have over the next six months to a year.
“With people needing about 35 hours to prepare for a test we’re talking about £1,200 pounds for lessons. They’ll be thinking, ‘Can I afford that?’ Traditionally, a lot of people in this industry were semi-retired and supplementing their pensions, but in recent years there has been a big uptake of instructors in their early-to-mid 20s. Where the future goes with that, I don’t know.
“The lesson prices could go up to £35 to £40 an hour if fuel costs keep escalating, or oil prices could plummet. Nobody knows what will happen. Honestly, I think the Government is in a very difficult position. They could reduce fuel duty but when they knocked 5p off the litre it only went down slightly. We’re now at more than 10p a litre up from then. There’s not much anyone can do. We can’t control the price of oil around the world.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “We understand that people are struggling with rising prices which is why we have acted to protect the 8 million most vulnerable British families through at least £1,200 of direct payments this year with additional support for pensioners and those claiming disability benefits. Through our £37 billion support package we are also saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut in July, allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn and cutting fuel duty by 5p saving a typical family £100.”
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