19 April 2024

‘Help needed now to bridge cost-of-living gap’

by Rebecca Hannant

Food banks, charities and people across Holderness are appealing to the Government for more help to bridge the gaps as the cost-of-living crisis continues to take effect on household incomes.

On Thursday, November 17, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn Statement to the country. During the speech Mr Hunt delivered his priorities as providing “stability, growth and public services”, and he also spoke of the impact of inflation.

Mr Hunt announced changes to tax, income and government expenditure which will take effect in April 2023.

The biggest change set to affect the average worker was the 9.7 per cent increase in minimum wage for those aged 23 and over. From April, the minimum wage will rise to £10.42, a 92p increase from the current £9.50 rate. A 10.1 per cent increase will also be applied to those in receipt of pensions, Universal Credit, and disability benefits.

It was also announced that households in receipt of means-tested benefits will get £900 support payments next year. Payments of £300 will be given to pensioner households, and £150 for individuals on disability benefit.

It comes as many people across the UK are struggling with the cost of living as prices of essential items increase. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks, said it had distributed a record number of food parcels between April and November. One in five of those receiving help was from a working household.

Hedon food bank, which is co-organised by members of Hedon Town Council, said it seen the effect of the crisis on its members. It now distributes food to 150 people across the HU12 area every week.

Hedon town councillor Jason Brindley said: “It is not a bad statement, to be honest. I was expecting far worse than what happened. A 10 per cent raise for people on universal credit and pensions is not bad.”

However, Councillor Brindley said that the changes would not come soon enough as those that are currently desperate will have to wait another six months before their incomes rise.

He added: “The unfortunate thing with that is things are going up far quicker than the increase will come through. The increase won’t be coming through until April next year. So, therefore, there is going to be this six-month gap before anyone sees any financial benefit, and by that time more people could well be in dire straits.

“We are already seeing a lot of working people coming through the doors because they can’t make ends meet. They call it the cost-of-living crisis, but basically, it’s the fuel. People tend to have to choose between gas and electric, and food. We can help with the food, but not gas and electric.

“Everything is going up, so as a consequence the help is needed sooner than down the line.

“East Riding Council does emergency grants, but they seem to be coming less and less as it was more of a Covid response rather than a cost-of-living crisis response. We have gone from one extreme to another. We could do with more funding in food banks, but no one has an open chequebook.”

Jayne Nendick, of the Shores centre in Withernsea, said: “What concerns me is what is happening right here and now. The support is needed today and not in six months.

“National minimum wage, Universal Credit, pensions and disability benefits may be going up because people need a higher wage, but prices may increase alongside it.

“We also shouldn’t forget those who are just above the benefits threshold. Their expenditure is going up with rising mortgages/rents, bills, food and energy. They are left to fall in the gap. I don’t feel that we are going to see a positive impact soon.

“Jeremy Hunt talked about growth, but what we really need is to survive before we thrive. When people are on their knees, we need to help them stand back up.

“I feel that the Government also needs to take more steps to act on energy companies that are reporting huge profits.”

A recent poll by the Benefact group suggested that charities such as food banks would be under increasing strain this winter. The poll, which surveyed 67,000 people, including 776 in East Yorkshire, found that more people would be likely to call on help from a charity, and 10 per cent of people said that they were likely to reduce the amount they donated as they contributed more money to essential household costs.

The reduced donations have already affected services such as Hedon food bank, which has seen fewer donations come in from members of the public. The food banks largely rely on subscriptions to places such as FareShare.

Mr Hunt also announced further changes to caps on council tax, with councils being able to increase their rates by five per cent, and social housing rent increases will also be capped at seven per cent. Average household energy bills will also be capped at £3,000 as opposed to £2,500.