The cost of living crisis has been a defining feature of this year. Inflation was at 9 per cent in April 2022, while benefits went up by only 3.1 per cent based on the inflation rate the previous September. Families who were already struggling have faced ever higher costs and insufficient support.
Campaigning for more support for families
At CPAG we focussed our campaigning efforts this year on highlighting the huge gap between rising costs and inadequate support. Our Cost of a Child in 2022 report showed the biggest deterioration in living standards since this research began 10 years ago.
At the beginning of the crisis we convened a coalition of organisations united behind the need for more support for people delivered through the social security system. Our calls contributed to the UK government introducing targeted support in the form of one-off payments from May 2022. We welcomed the fact this support was delivered through our social security system – something the UK government had been reluctant to do because it had been very difficult for them to remove the £20 added to universal credit during the pandemic. And it was positive that the payments also went to those affected by the benefit cap, with the chancellor acknowledging that there are many reasons why people might claim social security during their lives. We have highlighted just how squeezed those affected by the cap have become by rising costs, and so this was a win. But there were problems with the payments. Firstly, one-off payments do not provide stability or certainty. Secondly, these payments suggest the problem of rising prices is temporary, when it is not. And thirdly, flat rate payments take no account of family size and so are insufficient for families with children. Proper inflationary increases to benefits (uprating) remained our key ask.
With inflation remaining high throughout the year, we focussed on three priorities: proper uprating of benefits as soon as possible to match rising costs; reduced deductions taken from benefits; and removal of the benefit cap.
We did extensive research and advocacy on each of these issues, working closely with other organisations ranging from Action for Children to Age UK. For example, when it was suggested that benefits might only be increased by average wages, we highlighted that 200,000 more children would be pushed into poverty as a result, an argument used in a Times leader column. But if the benefit cap were to remain in place, higher benefits would mean more people hit by the cap and therefore not getting the support they need. Our analysis showed that 35,000 more families were likely to be affected by the benefit cap if benefits were increased with inflation, leaving them with a growing gulf between their income and rising costs.
Across the year, there was a lot of political change, with two new prime ministers. We therefore couldn’t rely on an early promise that benefits would be increased with inflation and had to keep making that argument until the Sunak government confirmed it in November 2022. This is only the fourth time in 13 years that benefits have been properly uprated by inflation. We also secured the first ever increase to the benefit cap, meaning all families would see their support increase by 10.1 per cent.
Much of our campaigning on the cost of living has been alongside parents and carers on a low income and the University of York through the Changing Realities research programme, the successor to Covid Realities. Collectively we have called for more support through the crisis, and for support that reflects families’ needs, but also investment in the social security system in the longer-term. The participants jointly wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, which was displayed as part of an exhibition, called Milk, at the Wellcome Collection in London. The project has continued to promote art-based campaigning too, including via zines (see below). Read more at changingrealities.org
"We are not case studies, but people with stories you would have nightmares about if it was your reality. Perhaps you don't see desperation unless you have lived it? Well learn from us. Because we are living it."
Extract from letter to prime minister from Changing Realities participants
We successfully secured a doubling of the final Scottish child payment bridging payment – an additional £130 payment for children entitled to free school meals. We led on making this a key cost of living call and co-ordinated an open letter from over 100 civic society organisations to the first minister in Scotland.
Providing more support for frontline workers
Many families entered the cost of living crisis already struggling financially. The effect of rising costs has been that many more have also needed support. We have continued to ensure that advisers and other frontline workers have what they need to help families facing hardship. This included delivering training for Members of the Scottish Parliaments’ case workers about support during the crisis.
On AskCPAG, our platform for advisers to access up-to-date information and tools to navigate the complexities of the social security system, we launched specialised cost of living pages. They feature time-saving checklists to help advisers find additional sources of support for their clients after a general benefit check has been completed. There are 10 individual checklists, each designed for clients in particular situations such as those with ill health, parents, or unpaid carers. It instantly became our most popular topic area.
In September, we launched a Food Bank Income Maximisation Service in partnership with Trussell Trust, to provide dedicated benefits advice, resources and training to over 140 food bank workers.
We also launched a guide for schools to help them consider how they’re already supporting families and how they can make small changes to policies, practices and communications to help families through times of economic difficulty.