The people of the United Kingdom are living through an economic crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen for decades. Just like the Covid-19 Pandemic, this crisis will affect everyone to some extent, but the worst of the impact is being felt by those who are already struggling the most.
Like so many other places, in the Lancaster District there’s a large divide between our most affluent residents and those who are living in deep poverty. Our Partnership worries that, if this crisis isn’t resolved, many of our friends and neighbours will be forced into desperate situations. We’re worried that those who have until now been able to make ends meet will be pushed into poverty. We’re worried that those who are already finding things difficult will face even deeper hardship, where their income isn’t enough to meet their basic needs in life. We can already see it happening. Without immediate action, our District will feel the impact of this crisis for many years to come.
Citizens Advice offices across Lancashire have seen many cases where people on low incomes can’t afford the basics. Hundreds of households are receiving fuel bills they simply can’t pay, and cutting back on things as vital to life as food.
The foodbanks and food clubs in our network are working flat out to meet a huge increase in need for their services. Our charities – organisations that provide food, advice, mental health services, warm spaces, and a compassionate response to all kinds of need – are at their limits. A recent survey carried out by Lancaster District CVS revealed that 63% of local charities expect they won’t be able to meet the increased demand for their services over the coming year. They’re still dealing with the consequences of the Covid Pandemic, and are now having to bear even more as the backlogs in public services force people to turn to charity instead.
The staff and volunteers that run these groups are under more pressure than we should expect anyone to have to deal with. Every day, they must respond to desperate situations, while their own circumstances are also getting worse. Our charity sector could not function without these generous, brilliant people, who have stepped forward to help others. This crisis is taking too heavy a toll on them.
The UK is the fifth wealthiest country in the world, and it should be a country where everyone has the chance of a decent and secure life. People should be able to thrive and live with dignity, not be forced to struggle every day to just exist. Our charities should be able to help people reach their full potential. Instead, we are helping people find enough money to simply put food on the table.
We know there are better solutions. As local organisations, we’re committed to working with decision makers to discuss a way forward that meets the needs of our communities. We want to work together, to do everything we can to support our residents. But we don’t have the power to stop this crisis from happening. Our national government does, and we’re calling on them to work with us and act to ensure that everyone has enough money to afford the essentials.
We’re calling for strong support systems that lift us out of hardship, rather than plunging us deeper into poverty. That means ensuring that financial support reflects the true cost of living, and benefits are brought in line with inflation now. Many people cannot wait until April.
We recommend that the following steps are taken to improve the UK’s social security system for the long-term:
- Deductions for debt should not exceed 5% of benefits;
- Claimants should be individuals, not couples;
- The two-child limit and benefits cap should be removed;
- The local housing allowance should be paid up to the median rent in any given area;
- The under 25s rate should be abolished and one rate paid to all adults;
- It should be easier and faster for disabled or unwell people to get the help they need;
- The 5-week wait for money should end, and money should be awarded as a grant, not a loan to be paid back when benefits are eventually paid.
We know that these changes will make a big difference to people who are living on benefits, and give them back the power to live meaningfully.
People living on benefits aren’t the only ones at risk in this crisis. We’re seeing a lot of people who work full-time still struggle to make ends meet, as costs rise but their wages don’t. Therefore, we also call upon the government to take meaningful steps to make our society more fair for everyone, for the long-term. This means making significant, structural changes to the way that money and resources are distributed in the UK.
- Wages should be raised in line with inflation;
- The mandatory minimum wage should be increased to reflect the true cost of living;
- Changes should be made to the UK’s tax system so that large companies, and individuals with the greatest wealth, pay a fairer percentage of tax;
- Pilot schemes for providing Universal Basic Income should be run among the UBI Lab Network of Local Authorities – of which the Lancaster District is a member.
These measures will go a step further towards creating a more fair and just society in the UK in which everyone will be able to live to their fullest potential, and fewer people will have to rely on charity.
Poverty is not a failure. It only takes one thing to push someone into poverty. That could be a serious illness or death in the family. It could be redundancy, or divorce. Nobody can control whether or not these things happen to them. They certainly shouldn’t be punished for it. With the current system, once someone is in poverty, it can be very hard to escape, and for those suffering ill health, almost impossible. Our social structure should be there to help people lift themselves up out of difficult circumstances, not just because that’s what’s fair, but because everyone has so much potential. Poverty is a waste of potential. Every single person has skills and talents that our society and economy will benefit hugely from if everyone is given the chance to shine.
This Partnership believes that we have to put decency at the heart of everything we do. We believe policy must be shaped by those who’ve experienced poverty and hardship. A social security system designed by these people would look very different to the system we have in place today. We’re confident it would allow people to thrive, rather than just get by.
The people of the United Kingdom already have all the tools we need to make our country truly brilliant. All we need to do is give them the ability to use them.