A person holding empty wallet open

Like many charities serving communities in England, we are concerned about the deficits in last week’s Spring Statement from the Chancellor. Most notably, we are concerned about the issue of social welfare benefits increases not meeting inflation by some 50% in April and the limited impact of the moving of the threshold for paying the new National Insurance rate.  

In providing a range of health services and social welfare advice to: disabled people; those living with HIV; LGBTQ+ people experiencing mental health issues; families affected by HIV; and those living alone with long-term health conditions, we are deeply worried about how inflation and the cost-of-living crisis is not being addressed for those who are most likely to experience poverty, and consequently poor physical and mental health.  

Through our METRO GAD service that advises disabled people in the Royal Borough of Greenwich on their welfare rights, our frontline workers are seeing a steady rise in cases of debt, increased anxiety from clients about paying for necessities, and ongoing struggles to meet housing and energy bills. Despite support for the latter offered by some energy providers and the higher price cap from April, this issue may regress as the weather warms up. However, it will return next autumn and winter, particularly for those disabled people we serve who have limited mobility and require more heating by default.  

As our Director of Strategy, Naomi Goldberg says of our role in supporting the work of Greenwich’s community and voluntary sector through METRO GAVS:   

"This is the perfect storm for local communities of Greenwich and the voluntary and community sector that supports them.  

"The Spring Statement does not address the issues experienced financially by the most disadvantaged here in Greenwich, meaning disabled people, those who are not employed, and those on low incomes. They will experience poverty as inflation and energy costs continue to rise, and benefits and wages do not rise at the same rate.  

"Inevitably, they will need support from the local voluntary sector around debt; housing; mental health support, and yet that support may not be there. Why? Because the voluntary sector’s staff and its volunteers are also burned out through the increase in demand during the pandemic, reductions in our capacity for service delivery because funding is becoming much tighter and low or non-existent pay rises for charity staff on middle incomes."

METRO hopes that the injection of an additional £500 million announced by the Rishi Sunak for the Household Support Fund to local authorities may offer some alleviation of hardship across the London boroughs in which we work, such as Lewisham, Croydon, Merton, Sutton, Lambeth, and Southwark, as well as for our service users in Essex, Medway, and Kent.   

However, the cost of living is also an issue that affects our staff who provide these vital services while themselves receiving lower salaries than many workers in more lucrative public and private sector workforces. They are already experiencing the impact of the cost of living and will face a greater squeeze as National Insurance is hiked for middle earners. Meanwhile, our income from fundraising and statutory contracts is not rising to match inflation to meet this need for higher wages on a sustainable basis.  

Like other charities in England, we are therefore very concerned about how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting our sector holistically as an economic and social issue for service users, staff, and volunteers, alike.  

If you are affected by these issues, you can find advice from: 

Citizens Advice on benefits and debt.

Trussell Trust on access to food banks.