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Poorest households need exceptional rise in benefit level, say charities

11 February 2022

The Trussell Trust said that it expected thousands more to turn to foodbanks

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CHARITIES working to support the poorest households in the UK have called for an “exceptional rise” in benefits to help people on the lowest incomes to cope with rising prices.

Benefit rises of at least six per cent are needed for those who are “already facing impossible decisions between heating and eating”, the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of foodbanks around the country, said.

The energy regulator last week lifted the price cap on energy bills by 54 per cent. Charities expect this to increase average bills to about £2000 a year and drive many more families into fuel poverty.

A package of measures introduced by the Government to help to soften the impact will mean that households will receive a loan of £200 this October, which will be claimed back in energy bills over the next five years. The Chancellor also announced a discount of £150 for those in the lowest council-tax bands, A-D.

These measures will not be enough to help those already struggling with rising bills, charities have warned.

The Trussell Trust said that it expected thousands more to turn to foodbanks as a result of the price increase, unless benefits were increased. Its policy director, Garry Lemon, said: “With inflation reaching a 30-year high, our social-security system is at breaking point, and essential costs across the board are rising rapidly. Overall inflation is only set to increase further this spring.

“To truly help people hardest hit, the Government must bring benefit payments in line with the expected cost of living this April, or risk pushing more people through the doors of foodbanks. This means increasing payments by at least six per cent, instead of the planned 3.1 per cent.”

The director of Church Action on Poverty, Niall Cooper, said that millions of low-income families would be affected by the “devastating” rises. “Hundreds of thousands of households will be swept into poverty unless the Government takes much more robust action to provide people with a lifeline.

“The Government has a moral duty to ensure that no one is left having to make a choice between heating or eating. It is therefore essential that benefit levels are increased by six per cent from April, to reflect the true rate of inflation in food, fuel, and other household essentials now, rather than last autumn, as well as taking further steps to ensure that all families have access to the support they need with heating bills.”

Christians Against Poverty has called on the Government to introduce more emergency support for households now. The current package covered only half the energy-price increase that households were facing, it said.

Its director of external affairs, Gareth McNab, said that benefit rates needed to rise even further, to 7.25 per cent, to keep pace with inflation. “This will allow payments to keep pace with the unusually steep rise in inflation, and help low-income households meet the higher cost of living across all consumer areas.”

He also called for the £200 loan to be paid in April, not October, which would be too late for many households, and called for a “significant” rise in the Warm Homes Discount Scheme for low-income households, which is currently worth £140 a year.

“These measures need to be brought in quickly enough to help low-income households ahead of the energy prices rises in April,” Mr McNab said, “and not only support them through the initial shock of higher prices, but make sure households can afford the cost of higher bills, which are expected to last for at least two years.”

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