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We are buckling under increased demand, churches and poverty charities warn

30 August 2022

People are struggling even before the new energy price-cap rise comes into force


Protesters against the new energy price-cap rise block a street outside the Ofgem headquarters in Canary Wharf on Friday

Protesters against the new energy price-cap rise block a street outside the Ofgem headquarters in Canary Wharf on Friday

CHARITIES that work with people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis have said that their own services are buckling under increased demand — even before the new energy price-cap rise comes into force.

Last Friday’s announcement by the energy regulator Ofgem that the price cap will rise to £3549 in October has left many charities fearful for the lives of people in their communities. Christians Against Poverty (CAP) warned that many people would be left destitute this winter.

Charities and churches working to support households are facing soaring energy costs themselves, and this is having an impact on their ability to help (News, 19 August). A church in one of the UK’s most deprived areas said that its own rising energy costs were affecting its ability to respond to the crises that people are facing.

The Vicar of St George’s, Everton, in Liverpool, the Revd Adam Maynard, said: “Our church, like many others, wants to offer itself to meet and support the many who will be in need in our community. But the rising energy costs are putting further strain on parish finances, which may affect our ability to respond to the crisis this winter.

“We will have to think about ways that we can use the building economically: for example, timetabling events to run one after the other to reduce the number of days we have to heat the building. There will, of course, be times when this won’t be possible.”

Dave Champness from the diocese of Blackburn has been studying the impact on estate churches in particular. The energy cost in these churches, he said, was rising from an average of £4579 — six per cent of income — to £21,000, 26 per cent of income. He described the increase on Twitter as an “existential threat”.

A Warm Welcome campaign has been created by a coalition of churches and charities, to create warm spaces for people who cannot afford to heat their homes. Mr Champness urged churches who had fixed deals with their energy providers before the price hike to sign up and offer spaces.

St Aidan with All Saints’, in Speke, tweeted that it wanted to “open extra days as a place of warmth but worried it may bankrupt us. One of our three buildings is a community hall used 7/7 by community groups and I don’t know if it will stay open. Is anyone addressing this on behalf of the C of E?”

The Revd Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis charitable trust, is setting up living rooms in schools and churches to provide warm refuges. They will also offer entertainment and food to anyone who turns up. He said that they had avoided the phrase “warm bank” to avoid stigmatising people.

The Salvation Army said that its foodbanks and debt-counselling services were already struggling to meet demand. Lt Colonel Dean Pallant said this week: “We really fear for families this winter. People are coming to us for essentials such as food, clothes, and bedding, because they are already at breaking point, and soaring energy costs will devastate them unless government action is taken now.

“Since the start of the cost-of-living crisis, we have seen an unprecedented demand for our help, as more people are pushed into poverty, debt, and homelessness. We helped feed thousands of children over the school holidays, and now we have parents queuing up for free school uniforms.

“Those in deprived communities have been hit the hardest, such as in Gateshead, where we have just given out free warm clothes and winter shoes to over 300 children. But we have not just been supporting those already struggling to make ends meet. We are also seeing people up and down the country who never thought they would need our help until the cost-of-living crisis. Our foodbanks and debt services have buckled under the increased demand.”

Gareth McNab, from CAP, said that many people would be left destitute this winter. Thousands of its clients are already unable to pay their energy bills. “It is outrageous that across the UK today, families are living in fear about how they will stay warm — or even stay alive throughout the winter months,” he said.

“We have been told that support is coming — but there is as yet little evidence that those making those promises truly understand the scale of the problem, nor the urgency with which they must act.”

CAP is calling on the Government to double the support on offer to households on benefits, pause benefit reductions used to repay past debts, ban energy companies from forcibly switching people to pre-payment meters, and impose a moratorium on court action over energy debt.

Debt Justice — formerly the Jubilee Debt campaign — has also called on the Government to expand its windfall tax on energy producers to support households.

The Labour Party has demanded a freeze in the price cap, funded by an extension to the windfall tax. The two candidates in the Conservative Party leadership contest, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have not yet spelled out detailed plans to help people this winter.

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