Written evidence from SCRATCH, Southampton Anti-Poverty Forum, Southampton City Mission CLP0024

 

 

Response: Southampton Anti-Poverty Network. It is an independent forum of practitioners involved in:

 

 

The questions are as follows:

1. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?

 

Most of the clients our members see have used their payment to pay for food and electricity, but they also use it to pay for other essential expenditure that they haven’t been able to afford. Although this payment has helped to pay for food and electricity it would have been better if UC and other benefits had been increased on a weekly/monthly basis to cover the ongoing higher costs of living (similar to the UC uplift).

 

When cost of living payments were devised, fuel costs were a primary driver. However, with food inflation running at 19% in the year to March 2023, this is having a high strain on household’s weekly budgets. Benefit rates have been uplifted but we are still seeing real hardship. There is unprecedented demand for Food Aid at present, with demand increasing substantially since 2021. Also. our main food bank is seeing such high levels of referrals that in the last few months, it has found it is no longer able to rely on donations and surplus food to meet need and as now had to resort to purchasing food to be able to manage demand for parcels.

 

We are also seeing unprecedented demand for support with keeping warm, help with utilities and other essentials.

 

Advice services are struggling to find sustainable solutions for those seeking advice with budgeting and there is increasing impact on local mental health and wellbeing and pressures on local mental services.

 

 

2. What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:

a) Passporting: Not already being in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, despite being eligible, and consequentially being prevented from accessing emergency support;

 

Low take up of Pension Credit is a concern, particularly as we have seen low take-up of other local anti-poverty provision/services from this group.

b) Cliff-edges: Not being in receipt of a certain means-tested benefit, because households failed to meet certain qualifying thresholds.

 

We have seen some households affected negatively by cliff-edges. 

 

c) Qualifying period anomalies: issues relating to the timing of benefit payments;

 

No comments received

 

d) Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning; or

e) Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate?

 

 

3. How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost of living support?

Although many of the clients seen by our members have used the payments to pay for food and electric – a high number have also used the payment for debts they have accumulated for example rent arrears, money owed to family or friends etc. We feel the payments should have been apportioned over the year on a monthly/weekly basis. More specific information, further in advance, about payment dates would also be useful to help households plan and budget.

 

4. Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of the emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?

Would be useful if those on benefits were automatically switched to social tariffs for services and utilities and rebate provide based on date welfare benefit application accepted.

 

 

 

May 2023