Austerity is pushing thousands of families to the brink in Stoke-on-Trent

A new report describes how austerity, in the form of cuts to health, welfare and social services, is driving increasing poverty and destitution.

The Citizens Advice Centre in Hanley

Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent has co-authored the report

The cost-of-living for many people in Stoke-on-Trent was already high before 2022, due to poorly paid work and cuts to the welfare state, meaning many people struggled to meet their basic needs and pay their bills. What we are seeing is more people falling deeper into debt.

Professor David Etherington

Co-authored by Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent (CASNS) and researchers from Staffordshire University and York University, the report aims to capture the impacts of recent economic changes and the cost-of-living crisis.

The report follows a series of joint reports already undertaken on the poverty crisis in the city. This update highlights deeper and more widespread issues of individuals and families struggling to survive and uses latest data sources alongside anonymised case studies which capture the lived experiences of Citizens Advice clients affected by cuts to benefits and debt problems.

Lead researcher Professor David Etherington, Staffordshire University, said: “We are heading towards a humanitarian crisis. The cost-of-living for many people in Stoke-on-Trent was already high before 2022, due to poorly paid work and cuts to the welfare state, meaning many people struggled to meet their basic needs and pay their bills. What we are seeing is more people falling deeper into debt.”

The report highlights that the key issue is low pay and benefits which are set at an extremely low level, so that large sections of the population are reliant upon insufficient incomes to maintain a basic standard of living. Soaring global energy prices, food, rental and transport costs are also forcing more families into hardship.

The report also claims underfunding of childcare, and government plans to impose benefit sanctions as part of the Way to Work initiative, are also having a negative effect on people and families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Simon Harris, CEO of Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent added: “Poor energy efficiency, low wages and high levels of benefit reliance make Stoke-on-Trent especially vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis.

“The stories contained in the report are typical of thousands of people living in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond who are reaching crisis point. While short term financial support is available, this doesn’t address the underlying long-term issues that local people face.”

In the last week, Citizens Advice has called for a ban on energy companies forcing struggling customers on to pre-payment meters, fearing it will leave many more families having to choose between heating or eating.

Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, added that health issues were also adding to the city’s problems.

“Stoke-on-Trent experiences high levels of health deprivation and the current state of the NHS is of particular concern to us. Stoke-on-Trent has amongst the highest infant mortality rates in England. Added to that we are seeing higher rates of alcohol and self-harm related admissions to hospital, a greater prevalence of obesity and smoking, more hip fractures, more homelessness and people dying younger from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The major causes of preventable deaths are the wider determinants of health, such as individual lifestyles, education, housing, employment, along with the wider economic conditions.”

The report makes a number of new recommendations including:

  • The need for an austerity impact assessment – how benefit and local government spending cuts impact particularly on women, disabled people and poorer communities.
  • Investment in affordable and flexible childcare to enable parents to access work.
  • An immediate cost of living supplement of £20 per week paid to every household receiving Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit in addition to the April uprating and the £900 payment
  • Investment of funding in targeted benefit take up campaigns to help boost incomes, focusing on means-tested and disability benefits.
  • Increased investment in renewable energy.
  • Increased investment in improving the thermal efficiency of the local housing stock.

Professor Jones added: “We offered detailed recommendations in our earlier report which included a job retention intervention and this would be a positive way to address skills shortages. Also investing in affordable childcare provision will address growing economic inactivity and support women who we think are bearing the brunt of austerity.”

  • Families on the Brink in Stoke-on-Trent. How austerity and the cost of living is driving poverty and destitution” has been co-authored by Professor David Etherington, Professor Martin Jones from Staffordshire University, Dr Luke Telford York Univeristy and Simon Harris and Sam Hubbard from Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent.
  • The earlier report The Pending Poverty Catastrophe in Stoke on Trent: How benefit cuts and the cost of living crisis impacts on the poor, Staffs University/(Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent), (March 2022) is available here 

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