Citizens Advice in Lancashire sounds alarm over the cost of living crisis

Citizens Advice offices across Lancashire have released research this week showing that Universal Credit is not enough to live off, and have called for the government to act urgently on benefit levels as living costs continue to soar. The charities, which are all part of the national Citizens Advice network, collaborated on the research, which looked at how much it costs to live in Lancashire and compared this with wages and the rates of benefits paid to people who live in the area.

“Universal Credit was not enough to live off in 2021, but now that prices are soaring, it’s causing serious hardship and deep poverty in the communities that we serve” said Joanna Young, the report author. “We are breaking unwelcome records across our services for the numbers of people coming to us with problems around benefits, or asking for help with food and fuel. The government must act to raise benefit payments to help those on the lowest incomes.”

Universal Credit is the main working age benefit for people who are out of work, and for those who are living on low incomes. It is supposed to top up wages and support families in financial hardship. However due to the £20 reduction to the benefit in October 2021, increasing prices, the lifting of the energy price cap, the freezing of housing allowances and inflation at over 10% for those on the lowest incomes, it is not currently providing an adequate income. In addition to this, 44% of people in receipt of Universal Credit have some kind of debt to the DWP which means their benefits are reduced each month. The result is that some people are experiencing destitution, which is when someone can’t afford heat, shelter, light, food and hygiene.

The report also points out the shortcomings of the current patchy network of emergency provision. “The government’s response to the cost of living crisis has been to use local councils to get money to people rather than the benefits system, which is designed to do exactly that.” says Joanna. “Raising Universal Credit and other benefits would have targeted this money more effectively. The Household Support Fund has created a postcode lottery in Lancashire with different areas offering different forms of help.”

Citizens Advice offices across the County have seen many cases where people on low incomes can’t afford the basics, with hundreds of residents receiving fuel bills they can’t possibly pay. Citizens Advice in Morecambe recently saw a client whose disposable income for the month was less than her electricity bill – which left her with no money for food, gas and water bills, toiletries, travel or council tax. “One-off payments via the Household Support Fund may solve a short term problem, but the inadequacy of benefit payments is a much more serious, long term problem, especially for people who can’t work due to ill health. The government must take on board how serious the situation is and take action before Winter comes.” 

Citizens Advice is a network of free, confidential charities providing expert advice and support to help people solve the problems they are facing. The research report can be found here, and you can find out more at www.citizensadvice.org.uk

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