Housing that is barely fit for animals let alone people. Electricity meters out of credit and no way to pay tomorrow’s bills. Empty petrol pumps, queues of people outside food banks and a homeless pensioner stealing food to pay for the cost of living. Mothers marching through the streets in anger. People desperately calling for change which never comes.
This is not 2023 – although the resonance is striking. The archive film Cost of Living [which you can watch by scrolling to the bottom on this page] captures harrowing footage from across Yorkshire and the north east between the 1950s and 1980s. It evokes a past which feels uncomfortably contemporary.
“The way I see it, things are bad now but they’re going to be worse in the future,” a young Black man says two minutes into the film, his voice echoing as though he is in an empty metal room. We are not told why the man is shirtless, where he is or his name. But he was eerily right, as Britain now faces its worst cost of living crisis since the 1950s.
- All the cost of living help available from the government, energy companies, councils and charities
- What are my rights if I can’t afford to pay my energy bills?
“It’s a feeling of powerlessness,” says Martin Hall, a senior lecturer in film and media and the co-founder of the cinema and social justice project at York St John University. “How have we seen this so many times before but we’re still not managing to do anything about it?”
The 15-minute film was commissioned by Hall and his colleagues and made by the team at the Yorkshire and North East Film Archives. It was initially meant as a resource for students, but it was so powerful it is now being shown at festivals and released for free online.
Graham Relton, the archive manager who sourced the footage, says: “It feels so visceral in its similarities to what so many of us are experiencing in the UK at the moment. It is shocking.”