Turkish construction worker Esat Celik is struggling to meet the needs of his three infants and cover mortgage payments for his apartment in Istanbul.
Like many Turks, 32-year-old Celik and his young family are grappling with a surge in the cost of living, as inflation has leapt to near 50% after a currency crash sparked by President Tayyip Erdogan’s unorthodox low interest rates policy.
He has had to seek help from a crowd-sourced aid initiative initially set up by the city municipality for families hit by coronavirus lockdowns, submitting his utility bills – which have doubled in the last year – to the scheme for payment.
“We only buy the needs of our children. We are making ends meet thanks to the help of our friends and family. We also lean very much on credit cards,” Celik said in his home in Esenler, a working class residential district.
The record slump in the lira and soaring prices have hit Erdogan’s opinion poll ratings ahead of elections due by June 2023. The government says credit, exports and investment will help the country weather inflation.
Celik said diapers and baby formula for his newborn son cost twice as much as when he was buying them for his daughter last year. The family breadwinner, he is also struggling to get jobs.
“I’m having difficulty finding work. I am unemployed now, I don’t work. Sometimes I get a couple of days of work… It is very hard to go on like this.”
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said applications to the municipality-led support system were double the rate last year, despite the lifting of pandemic-related measures, with more than 30,000 requests for help in the first three weeks of 2022.
“Unfortunately this shows doubling of poverty, doubling of people requesting help… I would be happy to see an enriched Istanbul where there is less need for this bill initiative,” Imamoglu said.
Energy is also more expensive. Electricity prices have been raised as much as 125% for high-demand commercial users and by around 50% for lower-demand households. Natural gas prices jumped 25% for residential use.
Shopkeepers and city councils have spoken out against the surging energy bills and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was organising gatherings in Istanbul and Ankara on Wednesday to demand the electricity price hikes be reversed.
Celik’s wife Cigdem said the couple, who had a simple breakfast of cheese, olives and jam with bread, had cut back their own diet to feed their children.
“We’re cutting back our own food and buy the formula for the baby. He has to be fed first,” she said. “We turn down the heating, we cut back our own food. We cannot get by any other way.”