How can we combat the cost of living crisis?

We’ve all been feeling the pinch lately as the cost of living increases. Energy bills have risen by as much as 54%, whilst inflation is at a record breaking 30 year high, and still going up.

We know this is going to have a huge impact on all of us, especially our clients. Many of the people we work with rely on benefits, meaning they’ll also be affected by changes to Universal Credit payments and more benefit sanctions.

For those living independently, keeping on top of rent, utility bills, tax and other expenses could be overwhelming without the right support.

That’s why St Mungo’s is working hard to assist clients with things like accessing benefits, applying for grants to reduce bills, and connecting with food banks, plus much more.

In short, we’re doing everything we can to prevent anyone from returning to the streets.

Clare is the Advice Services Manager on our Welfare Rights team, who specialise in supporting clients with benefits. She explains how they’ve been helping:

What does your role at St Mungo’s involve?

“I manage our Welfare Rights team, which is made up of specialists who are here to help anyone with a question about their welfare rights. We run an email advice line which clients, staff and volunteers can use to get in touch, and a one to one service for those who need extra help. We also work closely with the Rents team to try to resolve any problems relating to rent arrears (when someone falls behind on their rent payments) – the list goes on!”

How do you think the cost of living crisis is going to impact St Mungo’s clients?

“People living in services like Real Lettings, where they have a tenancy with bills and council tax – I think they are going to really feel the impact. I recently heard of a young client who is struggling with his tenancy. He’s a care leaver and, because of his age, he receives around £250 a month in Universal Credit. Now, he’s facing a gas bill of about £150 – more than half his monthly income. It’s just not sustainable.”

We’re doing our best to make sure that clients are aware of all the help that’s available to them.

Are you hearing from clients who are worried?

“Yes, definitely. Some clients are so good with their money, because they’ve relied on benefits for a long time. But they only just manage to get by, because they’re so careful. I think they’re the ones who are most worried, because they know how tough it’s going to get.”

How have your team responded?

“We’re doing our best to make sure that clients are aware of all the help that’s available to them. We’ve recently developed a checklist that support workers can use to help clients maximise their income – things like checking that Universal Credit payments are correct, making sure they’re accessing all the benefits they’re entitled to, or finding out if they qualify for a council tax reduction. The checklist also has links to hardship schemes run by all the main utility companies, which can be useful for those struggling to pay their bills. Of course, these things alone aren’t going to solve all of the problems caused by the cost of living increase, but they can make a big difference to someone’s monthly budget

Measuring the impact

In March, inflation soared to 6.2%, a 30 year high

Despite this, benefits increased by just 3.1%

This, combined with the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift has left many households facing a real terms income cut.

What else is St Mungo’s doing to help?

Alongside ensuring that our clients have the tools and support to manage their money effectively, St Mungo’s has raised concerns with the Government, and continues to promote a number of recommendations, including:

  • Increasing benefits in line with inflation
  • Ensuring support for housing costs increases in line with rent prices
  • Setting out exemptions in Universal Credit sanctions for people at risk of homelessness
  • Providing a flexible approach to support those at risk of, or experiencing homelessness
  • Continuing the Household Support Fund beyond October 2022, when energy bills are expected to rise again. This would help those most in need to buy food, gas, electricity and other essentials.

Follow the latest updates about our work with the government here.