It’s up to us to bring the sunshine
Spring is here. But as Henry observes, the Spring Statement from the Chancellor didn’t put much warmth into the lives of the increasing number of families that are struggling.
“I know I keep saying it, but this really is the ‘perfect storm’. Rents and food prices are soaring, inflation will top 7% this year and energy bills are set to rise by 54%. At the same time, wages and benefits are falling in real terms to create the biggest cost of living squeeze in decades. Nationally over 10 million people will face fuel poverty by next Christmas, and 1.3 million, including half a million children, will be pushed below the poverty line next year.”
REACH has been incredibly busy the last few weeks trying to help increasing numbers of financially strapped families. Our Community Outreach Advisor Gregor says, “It’s a progression of things. They’re hit by one problem, such as the drop in Universal Credit last autumn, so they cut back and cope. Then food prices start going up, so they economise some more. Then fuel costs increase, the energy crisis hits, and they simply have no options left. They are trapped in poverty, and the impact on their emotional and mental health is huge.
“Some clients can barely afford to go to work anymore. The lack of jobs in Haverhill means they’ve had to get employment further afield. But if you work in Bury St Edmunds, for example, the last bus back to Haverhill is at 5.15pm, so you may have no option but to drive. If you’re on a low wage, soaring fuel prices means much of your earnings go on fuel costs meaning it’s hardly worth working in the first place. It’s a crazy situation.”
So did the mini-budget help any of our client groups? Not really.
The rise in the National Insurance threshold will not benefit the poorest who don’t pay NI anyway. For those on low incomes that do pay NI, the rise in threshold will be offset by the 1.25% increase in NI rates. People working full time on national minimum wage will be worse off.
A 5p per litre cut in petrol and diesel does little to offset the 30p a litre fuel price increases we’ve had recently. But round here anyway, as Gregor has explained, it’s not as easy as ditching the car because so much of our public transport system has been shut down.
Already many of our clients were having to choose between heating and eating and next week, when we’re due a cold snap, they simply won’t be able to afford to put the heating on.
Henry says, “The Government knows that more needs to be done about the cost of living crisis. We hope that they will deliver and soon, because the poorest families are really suffering already. And that’s before the huge energy price cap rise next week.
“Meanwhile, it is left to all of us - REACH staff, supporters, volunteers and partners – to do whatever we can to bring a little sunshine into their lives. And thank you so much for everything you've done already"