‘Bolder action is needed:’ Anti-poverty campaigners issue home truths for the Chancellor ahead of Spring Budget

‘Cost of living support may be receding but the tide of people not being able to afford life’s essentials is not. It is time we moved from stop-gaps to sustainable solutions.’

Jeremy Hunt budget

February 22, 2024, marked the last of the cost of living payments being sent out. The cash top-ups had been awarded to people receiving means-tested benefits, disability benefits, and pension credits, at regular intervals over the course of the cost of living crisis. They have been a lifeline for around eight million low-income families.

But with rising living costs driving disadvantaged households further into poverty, with prices still rising despite inflation easing, and food and energy remaining at extortionate levels, charities and experts have warned that the payments are not enough. They have expressed fears about what may happen if the government does not announce additional payments.

The final cost of living payment has renewed calls for the introduction of a system that is there whenever anyone falls on hard times, rather than being just a ‘stop gap’ solution.

Ahead of the Spring Budget on March 6, anti-poverty charities and campaigners are calling on the Chancellor for bolder action to tackle poverty during the cost of living crisis.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which campaigns to solve poverty in the UK, says the cost of living crisis has widened the gulf between what people can afford and what they need, despite the cost of living support that was put in place. The charity notes how, by January 2024, food prices had risen by 30 percent since April 2021, and energy prices had increased by 75 percent in the same period.

“This pressure has been further intensified by the fact that these essentials make up a bigger share of low-income household spending compared to better off households. Debt and hardship has built up over this time,” says the JRF.

The one-off living payments, which in 2023/24 amounted to £900, offered some temporary respite, but did not go far enough, the charity warns. It is calling on the government redesign the social security system to ensure if delivers a Living Income for all, so that people are guaranteed they will be able to afford the essentials.

The JRF says it is essential that the Household Support Fund is extended at the upcoming Spring Budget, and becomes a permanent part of the system, with local authorities given funding certainty for three years at a time. The charity continues that this will enable councils and their partners to build partnerships to address hardship in their communities through “cash-first help for individuals and families and funding for organisations to provide practical help and support.”

“Cost of living support may be receding but the tide of people not being able to afford life’s essentials is not. It is time we moved from stop-gaps to sustainable solutions,” says JRF.

Stop the Squeeze, a coalition of civil society groups, have expressed the same concerns. They are calling on the government to tackle the cost of living crisis by guaranteeing affordable energy, boosting incomes, and raising taxes on wealth.

“The upcoming Spring Budget could be the Chancellor’s last opportunity to take bold action on the cost of living crisis,” said Megan Davies of the Stop the Squeeze campaign.

“While the government is fixated on tax cuts that won’t make any meaningful difference to most people, the reality is that families up and down the country are facing a financial cliff edge. We need a real plan for an affordable Britain, ensuring that everyone has access to an income that allows them not only to survive but to live well,” Davies added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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