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Four in 10 Britons struggling to pay energy bills, official data show

About four in 10 British households are finding it difficult to pay for gas and electricity and a similar proportion are buying less food, according to the first official statistics covering the period after the 54 per cent increase in the cap on most consumers’ energy bills.

The results of a survey run by the Office for National Statistics in Great Britain in the two weeks to April 24 showed that 40 per cent of people who pay energy bills said they found it very or somewhat difficult to afford the payments.

About the same proportion reported that in the past two weeks they were buying less food when shopping, with 44 per cent of adults reporting they had to spend more than usual to get what they normally buy.

All the figures are markedly up from the previous months and they are the first comprehensive indication of the impact of the change in the energy bill cap set by the regulator and of the increase in national insurance contributions.

The figures fuelled economists’ concerns about the effect of the cost of living crisis on people’s wellbeing and on the UK economic recovery after growth slowed to a crawl in February.

Household consumption has been the driver of the economic rebound in the last year but with inflation running at a 30-year high of 7 per cent consumers are feeling the hit.

Paul Dales, chief economist at Capital Economics, said he expected a further surge in consumer price inflation to a 40-year high of 10 per cent in October, which “will take the economy to the brink of recession”.

Financial markets expect the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to raise rates by 25 basis points to 1 per cent at its meeting next week. However, Fabrice Montagné, economist at Barclays, said he did not think the vote would be unanimous, “reflecting uncertainty around the policy outlook”.

The ONS data showed that more than nine in 10 households reported that their costs of living had risen, up from 60 per cent in November, as the vast majority reported increased prices of food shopping, fuel and energy bills.

People in the core working-age group — those aged 30 to 49 — are tightening their belts the most, with a higher share reporting that they had to borrow money, were cutting spending and were unable to afford unexpected large expenses.

The ONS data also showed that the proportion of adults who think they would not be able to save any money in the next 12 months had increased to 42 per cent in April from 34 per cent in November.

More than a quarter of the population also reported their household could not afford to pay an unexpected, but necessary, expense of £850 and about one in five also reported being unable to buy non-essential food.

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