Rising energy prices is a “national emergency” and more support needed to tackle gravest issue UK faces, say charities
Date Posted: Tuesday 30th August 2022
Charities committed to ending poverty are urging the next Prime Minister to reassure low-income families they will receive sufficient support through a “national emergency”
70 charities and community organisations signed a letter calling on the two remaining Conservative Party leadership candidates to show “compassion and leadership” to working age low-income families by making up the £1,600 shortfall they will face this winter.
The Government has already pledged £1,200 to each of the most vulnerable households but the rising cost of living (with slightly more for vulnerable pensioner and disabled households), on top of runaway energy bills, means the support package is no longer sufficient.
Energy bills for low-income households are £1,800 higher than last year, and other costs such as food have risen by £1,000 at the same time. This means the current £1,200 payment to everyone on means-tested benefits only covers about half of the rise, showing the need for another payment of at least the same magnitude.
Unless government support doubles at least, low-income families, already unable to pay their bills, will have to cover the shortfall themselves, falling further into arrears.
Nearly three-quarters of low-income households receiving Universal Credit or other means-tested benefits have been forced to go without at least one essential this year.
The letter states, “this situation cannot be allowed continue” and the prospective Conservative Party leader must ensure the social security system always provides enough to be able to afford the essentials.
It also calls on Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to commit to making debt deduction rates from benefits more affordable. MPs said these deductions pushed households into destitution and to depend on food banks.
“You were both senior members of a government that pledged to ensure that the most vulnerable and least well off get the support they need. It is only right that this be your top priority should you take office,” it ends.
Paul Kissack, Chief Executive at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:
“History shows that, when Britain faces a national emergency, Government is at its best when it steps up and takes determined and creative action to protect people and businesses, often in previously ‘unthinkable’ ways. We saw that after the 2008 crash with the nationalisation of banks. We saw it in the pandemic with a generous furlough scheme. The nation faces another national emergency now, and people rightly expect the Government to act to offer protection. Instead, we are seeing a Government asleep at the wheel, and leadership contenders failing to grasp the scale and urgency of the crisis.
“Even before the current crisis the social security system failed to cover the essentials, degraded by years of cuts. People are already selling their possessions, taking on risky debt and building up arrears they may never be able to pay back. And things are about to get far worse. Planning for a substantial support package needs to start immediately. Without it, vulnerable people will face a catastrophe on a vast scale when winter sets in. The consequences of sitting idly by are unthinkable”.
Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, said:
“When energy bills rocket in the Autumn, families who already have it tough are going to find things even harder. Parents will face impossible choices over whether to prioritise feeding their children or heating their homes.
“We have signed this letter because the UK government must do more – and fast.
“At the very least, the government should double the emergency support package announced in May to ensure families are shielded from a catastrophic winter. The most efficient way to provide this support would be through further payments through the social security system.”
The full text of the letter is below
We believe the impact of the cost-of living crisis on low-income households is the gravest issue our country faces.
So far this year, nearly three quarters of low-income households receiving Universal Credit or other means-tested benefits, many of them working families, have been forced to go without at least one essential. This means people having to skip meals or not being able to heat their homes properly.
Many of our organisations work directly with these families and are becoming overwhelmed, too often unable to provide the support so desperately needed.
This situation cannot be allowed to continue. As the prospective leaders of this country, we urge you to act now to demonstrate the compassion and leadership needed to tackle this issue head on.
We ask you both to pledge that, under your premiership, everyone who needs it will be properly supported when they hit hard times. This means ensuring that, at a minimum, the social security system always provides people with enough to be able to afford the essentials.
Low-income households need urgent reassurance now that they will receive sufficient support to weather the cost-of-living storm as it intensifies further this winter. This means committing to:
- Ensuring that low-income households are provided with sufficient support to cope with the average £2,800 rise in the cost of living they face to April 2023. Given the £1,200 in core support committed so far to households on means tested benefits, this means this support should be at least doubled. It should also vary by need, with higher payments for households with higher needs, for instance families with children. The most efficient way to provide this support would be through further payments through the social security system.
- Making debt deduction rates from benefits more affordable. Those subject to debt deductions face particularly high levels of hardship. This simple, low-cost action would enable people to keep more of their money and immediately relieve some of the financial pain they are enduring.
You were both senior members of a government that pledged to ensure that the most vulnerable and least well off get the support they need. It is only right that this be your top priority should you take office.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Save the Children UK
The Trussell Trust
The Children’s Society
The Trade Unions Congress
StepChange Debt Charity
Rethink Mental Illness
Macmillan Cancer Support
Action for Children
Young Women’s Trust
Royal National Institute of Blind People
Christians Against Poverty UK
Money Advice Trust
Trust for London
Motor Neurone Disease Association
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
British Association of Social Workers
The Independent Food Aid Network
Policy in Practice
Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales
The Food Foundation
Disability Benefits Consortium
End Furniture Poverty UK
North East Child Poverty Commission
Children North East
The Bevan Foundation
The Poverty Alliance
The Association of Charitable Organisations
One Parent Families Scotland
The Equality Trust
4in10 London’s Child Poverty Network
Communities that Work
The Mighty Creatives
Chartered Institute of Housing
National Federation of ALMOs
Poverty Truth Community
We Care Campaign
The Hygiene Bank
Glass Door Homeless Charity
Citizens Advice Scotland
Transforming Lives for Good
Charity Finance Group
Women’s Regional Consortium Northern Ireland
UK Community Foundations
Greater Manchester Poverty Action
National Education Union
 Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation (June 2022) Not heating, eating or meeting bills: managing a cost of living crisis on a low income. This surveyed ‘low-income’ households in the bottom 40% of incomes, including the approximately 5.6 million of these that claim means-tested benefits.