'Dark days' of cost of living crisis are still here for this family - and this is what it means for their vote

"We eat according to price rather than enjoyment," Sarah Bowmer tells me when we meet on the high street of her hometown of Bakewell, Derbyshire.  

It's a sunny day and the tourists have flocked to this picturesque market town in the heart of the Peak District.

Day-trippers wander around the souvenir shop and queues have formed to buy the famous Bakewell pudding, which has made this town famous since the 1820s.

But Sarah isn't feeling it.

Food prices are still 25% more expensive than when I first met Sarah and Paul in 2022. She calls that period the "dark days".

Sarah, 53, is a carer for 56-year-old Paul, who is registered disabled. They live in rented accommodation with their two sons Joseph, 17, and William, 15.

Back in 2022, they had just received a gas bill which had doubled from £240 the previous month to £490.

"When I read the letter from the gas company I just burst into tears. I had no idea how we would cope. It was terrifying," said Sarah.

They turned the heating off and wore more jumpers. They cut back on shopping and batch-cooked food.

The cost of living crisis that was being talked about so much in the media had arrived at their door.

And this was all happening, in part, because of a rise in inflation in both the UK and the world in general.

But the economic hangover caused by the pandemic, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and trade difficulties caused by Brexit were also making things worse.

Sarah says she was putting on a brave face for Paul and the boys.

"I was trying to pretend that everything was fine, but it really wasn't. We are heading into winter, and I have no idea how we were going to manage," she said.

In October 2022, the government stepped in to prevent household bills from spiralling out of control, introducing a cap on average bills to help families out.

Sarah, like most people, welcomed it.

But eventually the cost of that scheme, as well as the billions spent keeping the economy alive during the pandemic, would lead to difficult decisions, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announcing £55bn in spending cuts during November's autumn statement.

By now, British families are forecast to see the biggest drop in living standards since the war.

'The problem is here now'

When I met Sarah and Paul again, it is early November, the days are short and there's a cold snap on the way, with temperatures forecast to drop below zero.

We sit around their kitchen table and talk. Paul says their money is not going very far.

"We go for a normal everyday shop, which used to be about maybe £20 to £30 has now turned into £70," he said.

"There are things we just don't buy anymore, sweets for the kids or a nice pudding. The money we save has to go on heating the house or paying the bills."

Sarah says she is growing more and more frustrated with politicians.

"I understand that the government has to look at the long term, but the problem is here and now for so many families, including ours. It's getting through winter, that's the biggie," she said.

Over the next few months inflation begins to fall, offering Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a glimmer of hope this economic good news story could be harnessed to his advantage.

The prime minister announced there will be an election on 4 July and the nation is put on an election footing.

'We are worse off now'

I met Sarah and Paul again and they tell me their political views have very much been shaped by their experiences of the last few years.

Sarah says: "Very little has changed for us. We are still struggling to make ends meet and we are still seeing that the price of food is still very high.

"In fact, I think food is more expensive now than it was a few years ago.

"I have watched politics stumble from one disaster to another and it makes me so angry.

"I don't think they really care about how families like ours survive these times. They do appear to only care about themselves."

Sarah comes from a Conservative-voting family and has voted Tory in the past. Paul says he leans more towards Labour, but there's a problem for him.

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"As a leader, Kier Starmer doesn't quite cut it for me. I cannot put my finger on it. But when I look at the Conservative record over the past 14 years, I have no choice really but to support Labour this time around."

Sarah says: "We are worse off now. That's something that we have to take into consideration with this election."