Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Ending the benefits freeze is unlikely to help those forced to choose between heating and eating

Citizens Advice calls for wider reforms to social security benefits.

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Ending the four-year freeze to working age social security benefits will do little to help households who are forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families, says Citizens Advice.

While the move to finally put an end to the benefits freeze has been welcomed, new analysis by Citizens Advice suggests suggests that four in ten households who approach the charity for help and advice would still struggle to make ends meet.

The charity warns that a growing number of people still do not have enough income to cover basic bills and household essentials, such as groceries and energy costs.

Vauxhall Food Bank – photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc
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Sheila, 64, works part-time and receives monthly payments of Universal Credit. She is finding it increasingly difficult to cover bills and other living costs and is behind on rent and council tax.

She said: “Quite often I don’t have any electric, so I’m very cold. I can’t even make a hot water bottle to keep warm, or make a hot drink. I have to stay under the duvet.

“Even in the months when I am paid my full Universal Credit and wages it’s still really hard to afford everything, including food.

“It’s all swings and roundabouts, I just don’t have enough money coming in to pay the council tax and rent arrears, the actual council tax, buy food and top up my gas and electric.”

According to Citizens Advice, the number of people who are unable to cover basic living costs has increased since the benefits freeze came into force in 2016.

In the first five months of the current financial year, 40% of the people the charity helped with debt who claim income-related benefits didn’t have enough money to cover their living costs – an increase of 25% since the freeze came into effect.

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However, the charity argues that ending the freeze won’t be enough to help people like Sheila and are calling for wider reforms to the benefits system to ensure that payments cover day-to-day living costs.

This includes ensuring Universal Credit gives people enough to live on by reviewing areas such as the amount of money retained by working claimants, and deductions for those dealing with debts or repaying advance payments.

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our evidence shows that increasing numbers of people simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet.

“While a step in the right direction, increasing benefits by inflation will not go far enough to help solve this problem.

“The benefits system was created to support people in times of need.

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“The government should show it’s serious about meeting this ambition by properly investing in working-age benefits, and making sure fewer families are left in a downward spiral with no way to pay their bills.”

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