Breaking point

Published on: 
11 February 2022
Written by: 

Bea Pitel

Campaigns officer

Parents up and down the country are desperately trying to figure out how to cope with rising energy bills but the government’s response has been insufficient. And energy prices are not the only costs surging for families. What’s needed urgently is comprehensive help from the government with across-the-board price rises – starting with an increase to benefits by at least 6 per cent.

In April, benefits will be increased by 3.1 per cent, but inflation is predicted to surpass 6 per cent. These rising living costs will hit low-income families hardest. With budgets already at breaking point, they have no resilience to this kind of economic shock. Erik, a parent taking part in the Covid Realities research programme told us about the impact of rising prices:

“I don't know of any other cutbacks I can now make to help cover the cost of energy price rises. I have now reached a point where I will be unable to heat the home I share with my daughter at all over the winter. Up to this point, we limit baths / showers and I do not do the washing up with hot water… It hurts to see my daughter shivering and complaining about the cold but there is no other option for us or thousands of other families in a similar position.”

This can only be a starting point. We know that low-income families’ budgets were already stretched too far even before the current cost of living crunch. And many are still reeling from the recent £20 cut to universal credit. The energy price rise in April is just the latest challenge, after a decade of benefit cuts and freezes, and an unequal pandemic.

The government, at a minimum, should increase benefits by at least 6 per cent in April and ensure support for housing costs increases in line with rents. The government needs to make sure that all those struggling, including families affected by the benefit cap which limits the amount of support they receive, feel the financial impact of any measures it introduces. Taking these first steps would help stop the gap between what families have and what they need from widening even further, and lay the foundations to further strengthen the social security system.

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Note: The Covid Realities project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the author's and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/