The UK’s best known consumer finance journalist, Martin Lewis, was uncharacteristically downbeat about the new edition of his newsletter, which went out to 8.4 million UK subscribers on Wednesday morning, writing: “This is a guide I really wish we needn’t be publishing.”
Lewis’s Money Saving Expert newsletter is normally, and famously, packed with scores of top tips and tricks to help subscribers navigate the complex world of loans, insurance and utility bills grab the best deals, from shopping to holidays.
This week’s edition, however, concerns the cost of living crisis. The content of How to Heat the Human Not the Home is more self-help and survival guide than consumer in tone. The grim background to this ingenious and oddly depressing initiative is that in the UK in 2022 millions are so hard up they can’t heat their home.
“I felt sad asking my team to put this together,” Lewis tweeted. “But my email bag is full of folk so desperate they can’t put the heat on, I wanted to try some help.”
The guide is a practical list of options if you can’t afford to heat your home – a reality for many as the energy price cap rises and average bills shoot up to £2,000 a year, and millions of households slide into fuel poverty. Lewis admitted recently he was nearly out of conventional money-saving tools when it came to energy bills.
The guide discusses in forensic detail the costs and relative effectiveness of a range of alternatives to switching off the central heating, from heated insoles (less than 1p an hour) to hot-water bottles (6p an hour, assuming you boil 1.7 litre capacity kettle twice a day).
It advises on the right clothes to wear, the basic science of base, mid and outer layers, and where to buy them most cheaply, and notes the psychological importance of socks and keeping one’s feet warm. The floor is the coldest part of the house – so put your foot up on a stool when you are sitting down, it suggests.
Some of the tips do require a financial outlay and don’t come cheap if you do not have savings and are on benefits, for example, £46 for a heated gilet, or £13 for a fleece outerlayer.
The main source of the expertise is not, as usual, Lewis’s team of financial experts but thousands of his subscribers – clearly, many of them, experts with lived experience of living in constrained financial circumstances – who have set about advising with pluck and homespun wisdom.
“The days of me throwing tights away once they have had it is over, I chop the feet off and wear them under my trousers and it is amazing what difference it makes,” says Rosa. Another reader writes: “When sitting down, sit in a sleeping bag, at least your bottom half. Even better is you put a hot-water bottle in the bottom. Warm with no draughts.”
For all its sound advice, the guide acknowledges the limits of ingenuity. It may be dangerous to cut off the heating if you have certain health conditions, such as asthma, it points out. Eat regularly, it advises, though it admits a hot meal once a day may not be affordable for some. And at that point you may have to try the local food bank.
Nearly 12,000 people have liked Lewis’s tweet announcing the guide (part of a wider 90 ways to survive the cost of living crisis). The replies have provoked admiration, eager willingness to contribute tips, and distress, not least over the quiet desperation so many find themselves in, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
As one Twitter respondent put it: “It’s a damning indictment of the depths to which this country has sunk when the cheerful guy who provided advice about the best savings, offers and phone deals is now tearfully providing advice on how not to die from cold or malnutrition. Thank you, I wish it wasn’t necessary.”