By Will Horwitz
Yesterday a man patiently queued up outside our advice service for half an hour. When he sat down in front of Kay, a Community Links’ advisor, he broke down in tears. It’s usually the women who cry, says Kay (and she admits she often cries with them), but in this case a man with a mortgage, a family and until recently a job was overwhelmed by the debts he’d ignored in the desperate hope they would somehow go away.
He isn’t alone. Whether it’s debt, housing issues, problems with the welfare system, low pay or unemployment, people are struggling. Not just those receiving benefits, but increasingly people in work as well. In their report released today, Oxfam call this a ‘perfect storm’ hitting those on low incomes in the UK. They show that as the richest in society are seeing their incomes continue to rise, people on moderate pay or below are increasingly struggling.
Community Links contributed to the report (word doc), through an analysis of the situation of those accessing our advice services and a focus group with our advice staff. We found that just as cuts to our funding limit our service, the severity of problems people present with are increasing. Like Oxfam, we found a whole range of pressures – low incomes in work, reduced benefits (both in and out of work), increasing numbers of sanctions in the welfare system, more aggressive creditors, and rising living costs – just as services, both statutory and those like ours, are being withdrawn.
Their solutions include a new minimum wage level for larger employers, reversing the cuts to working tax credits, and lowering the rate at which Universal Credit is withdrawn as people move into work. They also suggest:
- Protecting the safety net of the welfare system, by making sure no further cuts are introduced that disproportionately affect the poorest
- Reducing cuts to public services and increasing progressive taxation instead
- Protecting people living in poverty from high energy prices
- Introducing a maximum level of interest lenders can charge to protect people in debt.
- Investing in universal childcare and affordable housing and extending the right to flexible working to all workers