More people than ever before are seeking help to deal with financial hardship and other forms of crisis, according to Citizens Advice.
Social welfare experts giving evidence to the Department for Work and Pensions select committee warned that people on low incomes are “already drowning” and face worse problems if support isn’t provided.
At a glance: 5 key points
- Citizens Advice has experienced the highest level of demand for support since the pandemic began in recent months, as well as an all-time record of 24,000 requests for ‘crisis support’ including referrals for food banks
- The advice service has also seen increased rates of fuel debt, even before the significant increase in energy costs comes into effect in April, with prices set to rise by around £700 per year
- Experts have raised concerns that the level of support offered by the government is entirely inadequate and will force more people into severe poverty as the cost of living goes up
- Energy debt is also on the rise, with the average person who approached Citizens Advice for support, with the average energy debt now standing at £1,450, up from £1,330 in 2020
- Support measures announced by the Treasury last week have been described as “welcome” but not enough to prevent people facing major hardship in the coming months
What’s been said?
Speaking to the DWP select committee today (9 February) Morgan Wild, head of policy at Citizens Advice, said many households will “not be able to bear” the significant energy price increases due in April.
He said: “People on low incomes are seeing incredibly high rising prices and no commensurate increase in their incomes.
“We saw a welcome start from the chancellor, to provide some support that will help people on low incomes, even though it is not targeted, but we really think that challenge hasn’t been grasped properly.
“The government is going to have to come back over the coming months to help households who are at this baseline and already drowning and face significant difficulties if they don’t have further measures to protect them against increased energy costs and broader increases in cost of living”.
“They just keep taking money from all angles” - mother-of-two Ruth from Sunderland
Ruth, 26, from Sunderland said: “I’m struggling to get by, the money just keeps going up and up and up. They just keep taking money from all angles.
“I knew my energy bills were going to go up but didn't realise it would go up this much. This week we’ve been living on rations and I’ve thought about ringing the food bank but it’s half an hour away and I can’t afford a taxi or bus.”
“I’ve had to dip into my rent money just to buy some nappies and washing powder. We’ve been spending most of our time at my Nana’s just for some heating and electricity.”
Rebecca Shiers, an energy adviser at Citizens Advice Plymouth, said: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen. The amount of people seeking help and the stories I’m hearing, it feels absolutely relentless.
“I’ve spoken with a widower who’d built up energy debts trying to keep his home warm for his terminally ill wife. He's scared about how he’s to repay those arrears and how he'll cope with further price rises. I've also helped a veteran who can't work due to PTSD. They needed crisis support because rising energy bills are pushing them into the red each and every month.
“I usually spend time with people reviewing and challenging their budgets to see where savings can be made. With prices rocketing for most people I’m getting to the point where there’s nothing left to cut from.”