2022 has already been an incredibly eventful year for the UK, with one week in September alone seeing both the death of our monarch, and a change in prime minister. That week also featured Liz Truss’s new government making a major announcement in response to the cost of living crisis, promising support to cap average households energy bills over the next two years. Despite this busy news agenda, the cost of living crisis has remained at the forefront of the political and national conversation, with concern over how households will weather an unhappy combination of record breaking rates of inflation, rapidly escalating energy prices, stagnant wages and inadequate social security provision.
This national conversation has repeatedly characterised the current situation as a ‘crisis’; with this frame employed to promote urgent and costly policy changes, and to reinforce what is suggested to be extraordinary about these contemporary times. While it is quite right to call for urgent support, it is also vital to remember that - for many families living on a low-income - crisis is for them an everyday occurrence, borne out of the struggle to get by on an insufficient income. Households facing poverty face perpetual, everyday crises, forced to make almost impossible decisions as they seek to budget their limited income, with the poverty faced inevitably increasing their risks of stress, anxiety and wider mental ill health.
Families in poverty were especially hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and are inevitably vulnerable to the escalating Cost of Living. Many millions of households in the UK are fearful of navigating rising costs, but for families already in poverty, there is literally nowhere left for them to cut.
Rightly, there is a great deal of policy focus on how those on the lowest incomes will be impacted by the Cost of Living Crisis, including, for example, analysis by Joseph Rowntree Foundation that shows that those on the lowest incomes face a £900 shortfall between the rise in costs and support provided. That represents £75 a month, or almost £20 a week: money that families will simply not be able to find.
Resolution Foundation have also emphasised the gaps in provision for low-income households, highlighting the particular problems for those on pre-payment meters, who they predict will have to pay £264 in cash for January alone, even after the Government’s latest package of support is factored in. Those using pre-payment meters will find this an almost impossible task, creating a likelihood that many affected families will face a winter with only limited energy, with subsequent risks to adult and child health.
The analysis of organisations like Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Resolution Foundation is vital, and contributes vital knowledge to public and political understanding of the crisis. But what is just as vital is that we hear from and involve those living in poverty in the national conversation, and critically in policymaking discussion and debates about what needs to change and why. That is the rationale behind our new project - Changing Realities - which aims to do just that.
Changing Realities is a collaboration between parents and carers living on a low-income, the charity Child Poverty Action Group and researchers at the University of York. Together, we want to document everyday realities of life on a low-income this winter, and push for change. Parents taking part can complete online diaries, respond to our ‘big questions of the week’, and come along online discussion groups and workshops. The project builds from the earlier Covid Realities, which documented life on a low-income during the pandemic. As we launch this project, we are looking for parents to join us in documenting changing realities, and being part of changing things for the better. We’re also looking for people to help us spread the word, by sharing this blog, or by reaching out to people you know who might like to get involved.
It is not right that families in poverty face everyday crisis and hardship. Things can and should be different. Get in touch and find out how you can get involved in Changing Realities.
Changing Realities is funded by abdn Financial Fairness Trust. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Trust. Changing Realities is a collaboration between parents and carers on a low-income, Child Poverty Action Group and the University of York.