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Unravelling the Cost-of-Living Crisis: Complex Realities and Media Narratives

Diane Hall


Financial Crisis stopping the

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Drone footage, during the coverage of Glastonbury 2023, was staggering. I had no idea how big the event actually was and how much acreage it covered. Having never been, I don’t think I realised the sheer size and attendance of the annual music festival until that shot.

According to Google, 210,000 people attended Glastonbury this year. At £340 a ticket, that’s one hell of a turnover for the organisers, but a huge outlay for families over individual attendees. Despite this, loads of families were interviewed at the event, regardless of the high entry fee.

I’ve been to a few different large-scale events this year, and some smaller ones. All were fully populated, and the ticket costs for some events weren’t what I’d consider cheap.

Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, and this article is largely generalist in nature. I know what my family has had to go without/sacrifice to attend these events, but if I believed the media, we’re all on death’s door when it comes to our finances and diminishing disposable income. I personally live on or just above the breadline, but given how many people were also attending the events I went to, and the sheer number of people at Glastonbury, it does make me wonder how much of a cost-of-living crisis there actually is across the board. 

Unstable piggy bank

In my situation, it’s not wealth but stage of life playing its part—my children are not as financially dependent on me as they were, given they’re now working adults. I work more hours now than I’ve ever done, which has increased our household income. That I’m in a position to step back and weigh up these questions is probably down to circumstance more than anything. 

I’m not immune to the cost-of-living crisis. I can clearly see how much less I get in my trolley at the supermarket compared to a couple of years ago. I can’t upgrade my car to a newer (second-hand) model, however much I may need to, as the escalating prices in this market has taken the option out of my reach financially. It’s annoying. I’m also fully aware that putting that in black and white makes me sound like a rich, insensitive toff who’s tone-deaf to the struggles some families are currently battling with.

I do know that the number of food banks has also risen exponentially—I work in the third sector, and it’s a truly horrible time for some people. But it’s certainly not a horrible time for everyone, given the spending I see on my travels. 

In my local town a raft of trendy new pubs have sprung up in abandoned shops and underused banks. They’re jam-packed across the weekend and busy enough on weeknights too. Fast food outlets are always bulging with customers. There are so many cars on the road you can’t go more than ten feet without using your brakes. New houses are still being built at a rapid rate for some people. These consumers don’t seem to be struggling. Are they even aware of a cost-of-living crisis?

Am I just looking at certain things in isolation? Are families with income in the higher brackets having to make huge cutbacks in unforeseen areas to afford the things they’re enjoying? Or is the mainstream media just using its usual scare tactics and spin?

(By the way, those are hypothetical questions, I don’t know the answers. I’m simply surmising.)

The cost-of-living crisis in the UK has been a topic of heated debate and discussion in recent years. On one hand, we see pop stars embarking on highly successful sell-out tours, which might suggest a thriving economy and a lack of financial constraints. On the other hand, media outlets continue to report on the struggles faced by individuals and families in meeting their basic needs. Can both premises be correct and simultaneously co-exist?

I decided to ask Chat GPT what it thought on the matter:

The reality of rising living costs

It’s undeniable that the cost of living has been steadily rising in the UK. Housing prices, rent, utilities, and other essential expenses have significantly outpaced wage growth for many individuals and families. The average person's income has not kept up with the inflationary pressures exerted on everyday necessities. While it is true that people still manage to save money for big events like music festivals or concerts, it does not negate the fact that a significant portion of their income is consumed by day-to-day expenses. The ability to enjoy entertainment should not be mistaken for overall financial stability.

Disposable income and priorities

The argument that people are saving their remaining disposable income for big events like Glastonbury fails to acknowledge the broader financial realities. Disposable income refers to the money left over after paying for essential expenses such as housing, utilities, groceries, and transportation. In many cases, individuals and families have little or no disposable income after meeting these essential needs. It’s important to recognise that those who can afford to save for such events often belong to higher-income brackets, while a substantial portion of the population struggles to make ends meet.

Financial pressures and inequality

The cost-of-living crisis in the UK is perhaps not evenly distributed across society. Income inequality has become a pressing concern, with a growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Whilst some individuals may have the means to enjoy luxury experiences, a significant portion of the population faces financial hardship. Rising living costs disproportionately affect vulnerable groups such as low-income families, single-parent households, and those relying on minimum wage jobs. The media's focus on these struggles is a reflection of the lived experiences of many individuals, rather than an exaggeration.

Debt and financial insecurity

Another crucial aspect of the cost-of-living crisis is the prevalence of debt and financial insecurity. Many households in the UK are burdened with high levels of personal debt, including credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages. This debt often serves as a barrier to saving and investing in larger events. The concept of ‘living paycheck to paycheck’ is a reality for a significant portion of the population. The media's coverage of financial struggles highlights the urgency of addressing this systemic issue, rather than simply amplifying negative narratives.

Hidden costs and inflation

Beyond the basic necessities, the rising cost of living in the UK extends to other areas as well. Education, healthcare, and transportation costs have all increased significantly in recent years. Additionally, inflation impacts individuals differently, depending on their income and expenses. The media's portrayal of financial hardships encompasses a wide range of economic factors that contribute to the cost-of-living crisis, making it difficult to dismiss it as mere exaggeration.

Whilst it may be tempting to attribute the popularity of events like Glastonbury to a lack of financial constraints, it is crucial to separate momentary entertainment from the broader financial realities faced by many in the UK. The cost-of-living crisis is a complex issue affecting numerous individuals and families. It’s vital that we address income inequality, rising living costs, and the burden of debt, to ensure a more equitable and secure future for all. 

So, there you go. The crisis is real. It affects everyone to varying degrees, even those affording high-price items and activities.

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