A new report, co-authored with Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent (CASNS), aims to update the picture of poverty and social distress in the city following cuts to Universal Credit and the withdrawal of the furlough scheme.
It also takes account of soaring global energy prices, food, rental and transport costs which are evidenced by increasing numbers of people choosing between eating or heating their homes and increased dependence on foodbanks and charities including Citizens Advice.
Lead researcher Professor David Etherington said: “Given the timescales, it has not been possible to factor in the economic impacts of the war in Ukraine, but this is only going to exacerbate the worsening cost-of-living crisis.
“The Resolution Foundation has recently described the spike in cost-of-living as a catastrophe. In the case of Stoke-on-Trent which has existing problems of poverty and destitution, we are now witnessing more people struggling to make ends meet with cost-of-living outstripping income from wages and benefits.”
An earlier report, published in September 2021, stated that over £30m could be lost from Stoke-on-Trent’s economy if the government pressed ahead with plans to withdraw the £20 uplift in Universal Credit which was introduced to help households through the pandemic.
Using data from Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent, the latest report also uses anonymised case studies which capture the lived experiences of clients impacted by cuts to benefits and debt problems.
Simon Harris, CEO of Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent, has this week called on government to reinstate the £20 uplift in Universal Credit. He said: “The cost-of-living crisis is happening here and now. Much of our caseload can be attributed to individuals and families coping with low income, poor health and poverty.
These stories are not isolated examples but typical of thousands of people living in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond who need help on a practical level but also at policy level. Much of the support is short term crisis support but doesn’t address the underlying long-term issues that local people face.”
The new report states that:
- The increase in energy prices, private house rental prices, food and transport costs and an increase in National Insurance from April “form a perfect storm and constitutes the biggest cost-of-living crisis in recent memory.”
- Food poverty is partially driven by the recent removal of the £20 uplift in UC which impacts disproportionately on areas like Stoke-on-Trent where there are large numbers of claimants (29,975 in February 2022).
- The total number of families receiving food aid from the Alice Charity between January 2021 - January 2022 amounted to 1,727. The combined total aid provided to families in 2018 and 2019 was 756, indicating a significant increase in demand for food aid. Stoke-on-Trent Trussell Trust provided food aid to 17,000 people in 2020/21.
- Between September 2021 and January 2022, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent received more than 11,500 enquires about Universal Credit, debt and other benefits and tax credits, representing 71 per cent of total enquiries.
- Government plans to impose benefit sanctions as part of the Way to Work initiative to move people more quickly into employment could have a negative effect – “pushing people into deeper poverty and exiting the benefits system altogether.”
The report adds: “With high rates of low paid and insecure jobs, whereby many people were already finding it difficult to make ends meet and afford household essentials, it is difficult to underestimate the human disaster that is unfolding in places like Stoke-on-Trent.”
Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, added: “We have a civic duty to work with Citizens Advice and others at the sharp end to raise awareness and the publication of this report is a timely intervention – coming in the same week as the Chancellor announces his Spring Statement and inflation reaches its highest level in 30 years.”
“We offered detailed recommendations in our earlier report which included a job retention intervention to replace furlough schemes and this would be a positive way to address skills shortages.
“In this report we also cite examples of other countries like France which has imposed a windfall tax on the nation’s main energy supplier to restrict energy price hikes and the resulting potential increase in poverty levels.”