More support needed for poorest in cost-of-living crisis

Without further government action, rising living costs will drag some families into destitution this winter, churches and charities have warned.

The Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of the United Reformed Church (URC) General Assembly, was among 52 signatories to an open letter published ahead of the chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’ last week.

In the letter, the signatories argued that it is “the urgent, moral responsibility of the Prime Minister to ensure that people on the lowest incomes have enough to live in the months ahead. Low income households need targeted financial support which takes into account family size and need, is distributed quickly and in amounts large enough to enable families to live decently this winter and beyond”.

Even after the government’s announcement of an Energy Price Guarantee, which will limit average household fuel bills to £2,500, people are facing energy costs being double what they were last autumn. For most low-income families, who began the year with little or no disposable income, this is simply not affordable.

Analysis produced by Professor Donald Hirsch of Loughborough University indicates that the average family of four receiving Universal Credit will still need an additional £1,391 over the next six months to stay warm and fed.

The report was published by the Joint Public Issues Team on behalf of the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which coordinated the open letter.

An earlier report from the group, published in August with a foreword by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, warned of the human cost of government inaction.

Mariana, a single mother who works as a school catering assistant, already relies on support from a foodbank most months. With a son aged six with learning disabilities and a daughter aged nine, she says she doesn’t know what more she can do to cut her living costs.

Vicky Longbone, a URC Church Related Community Worker in Derby, recently spoke to BBC Radio Derby about her concerns for people she supports in her area. She observed that at a recent school holiday food scheme, “some parents would come in and ask for a sandwich on arrival, because it turned out the kids had been fed, but the parents were going without. This is often happening to low paid workers, not people on benefits, not people who abuse the system. What will they do? I have no answers! The general public need to know how bad it really is”.

The URC has endorsed a campaign to extend Free School Meals to all children in primary schools in England. Around one in four children already live in poverty, with predictions the situation will worsen this autumn. An open letter from the campaign notes that “when children are hungry, they can’t learn. Free school meals for every child will put money back in parents’ pockets. That’s money they can use to pay for other essentials for their children, from heating and food at home to hobbies and after-school clubs”.

You can add your name to the open letter at

Many churches and community groups are planning practical responses to help people who are struggling financially as a result of the rising cost of living, such as ‘Warm Hubs’ and debt advice centres. Sixty per cent of URCs already support or run a foodbank.

Look out for further information and guidance about this on the URC website shortly.

Image: Josh Appel/Unsplash.