7 October 2022

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Kathy’s story: the cost of living crisis

The cost of living crisis is having a serious impact on the dying, their families, carers and the bereaved.

When Kathy’s beloved husband Ernie was told he had months to live following a cancer diagnosis, they made the decision to care for him at home with the help of St Christopher’s community nursing team. Just nine weeks later, Ernie died – and Kathy was plunged into a severe financial crisis alongside her grief.

The couple relied on two incomes to make ends meet, which quickly reduced to zero when Kathy developed anxiety and depression following Ernie’s death, which prevented her from working her usual 12 hour shifts in residential and domiciliary care.

Kathy told us “I didn’t know what I was going to do, how I was going to survive, where my next pay cheque was going to come from and how I would pay the rent. I was like a lost little girl in a world I’d never been in before.”

Unbeknownst to Kathy, Ernie had also accrued debts which she was now being chased for, alongside a staggering £29,000 council tax bill on top of her regular living costs.

With inflation, increased energy bills and very little in terms of extra support packages, many people across the UK will be finding themselves in a similar position to Kathy this winter. Carolyn Walker, Welfare Team Lead at St Christopher’s, warns that for those at the end of life, the situation can be even more brutal.

Kathy & Ernie Wedding Day
Kathy and Ernie on their wedding day.

“We’re hearing from people that are reluctant to use oxygen that they desperately need, because they’re scared of not being able to pay their energy bills. Others who are bed bound and unable to do anything else are afraid to switch their TVs on in case it makes their bills shoot up even higher. It’s crucial for people at the end of life to be kept warm and comfortable, so families are worried that they won’t be able to look after their loved ones properly.”

After Ernie’s death, Kathy got in touch with Carolyn and our Welfare Team, who were able to step in and help straighten out her affairs.

“Carolyn was so reassuring, right from the start,” Kathy recalls. “She was like an angel who came out of nowhere. She listened to all my worries and concerns and just told me everything that we needed to do. She set up all my Universal Credit, went through all the bills I had, fought against the debt and council tax bills and got that removed, got me bereavement benefit, and ensured I had money coming in. It was such a relief for me to know that I could pay the bills and keep my house.”

“I’m lucky I like cereal, because it’s the only thing I can afford to eat.”

Although we were able to support Kathy and get her back on her feet in the aftermath of Ernie’s death, the rising costs of living has again left her worried about continuing to make ends meet. “At the moment, after everything, I’m left with £34 a month” Kathy says. “That has to pay for all of my food. I’m lucky I like cereal, because it’s the only thing I can afford to eat.”

By sharing Kathy’s story, we hope to shine a light on the people who are most affected by, and seem forgotten in, this crisis. More needs to be done to help support those who are struggling at the end of life – but we are determined to help plug the gap for our patients and their families when they need us most.

If you’re caring for someone at the end of life and have worries about unpaid bills, extra expenses, or reduced income, our Welfare Team are trained to help maximise income for those under the care of St Christopher’s. Contact your St Christopher’s nurse or clinical team or call us on 0208 768 4500 or email for more information.

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