Today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, evokes a mixed response from the team at Caritas Salford. While we acknowledge and will need more time to thoroughly assess the wider impacts, our initial reactions appear to align with sentiments shared by many charities and organisations whom we partner with in coalition to support those experiencing poverty, disadvantage and discrimination.
Firstly, we are pleased to see the Chancellor’s separate announcement yesterday to increase the minimum wage, a crucial step in supporting low-income workers. Today’s uplift of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate is a positive but long-overdue development, responding to the persistent calls from us and various charity coalitions within the homelessness sector.
With others, our gravest concern lies in the government’s plans to intensify measures for those unable to work because of disability or other barrier preventing them from working. Such a conditional approach with sanctions is deeply troubling especially when considering the evidence which demonstrates how ineffective they are. Instead, we would urge the government to focus on providing training and support to disabled individuals, rather than coercing them into unsuitable roles.
It is encouraging to learn that benefits payments will be increased in line with inflation. This increase will provide some relief for families grappling with rising costs. However, the decision to prioritise a national insurance tax cut, benefiting the better-off, over targeted support for low-income families is concerning. The intended goal of making work pay must not inadvertently push vulnerable families further into poverty.
With over 308,000 children in Salford Diocese in poverty, we continue to urge the UK government to prepare a comprehensive strategy to address the alarming levels of child poverty in the country.
Also absent today is evidence of government support for improvements in energy efficiency which would not only support carbon reduction but would alleviate pressures on those in poverty facing high heating and utility costs.
Research evidence highlights the disproportionate impact of inflation on towns in the north, especially places like Blackburn and Burnley in Salford Diocese and support for energy efficiency in domestic dwellings would mitigate the effects for the long-term.
Finally, we await tomorrow’s announcements on the energy price cap which is anticipated to increase by 5%. While the rate of inflation may have fallen overall, prices have not reduced and are continuing to rise above target rates. This forces those already most vulnerable in our society into greater uncertainty, restricting the opportunities for the education, development and growth of children and increasing the risks of harm to those experiencing poverty through poor mental and physical health.