Rory Weal, Policy & Public Affairs Manager
Yesterday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his ‘summer statement’. A number of eye-catching policies were announced to support the economy through what even the most optimistic predictions suggest will be the deepest recession in decades.
Interventions to protect jobs and targeted support for the hardest hit sectors featured prominently, as did measures to boost consumer spending in the form of VAT cuts and a 50% voucher discount for eating out in restaurants, cafes and pubs during August.
But this welcome focus on jobs must be matched by a renewed effort to make sure people out of work can afford the essentials.
There was little here for the millions of people already relying on our social security safety net, and the many more who will be forced to turn to it over the coming months.
Recent work by the Social Metrics Commission shows that the largest employment impacts from the current crisis have been felt by those already in the deepest levels of poverty. Food banks have seen this first hand. Across the Trussell Trust network there has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of people pushed to food banks during this crisis – including an 89% rise in food bank use in April compared to the same time last year, and a shocking 107% rise in parcels for children.
People who are currently unable to afford food and other essentials – and those who are going to fall in to this situation as the economic crisis continues to unfold – need an urgent boost to social security so they have enough to stay afloat.
The Chancellor did commit some extra help in the form of £1bn more funding for DWP. This money will be used to fund a doubling of Work Coaches and other forms of support to help people back to work. Extra support is welcome, but risks being undermined by the re-introduction of sanctions and some of the Universal Credit deductions which had been paused – which have quietly returned in recent weeks with much less fanfare. These, combined with the five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment, can combine to push people under just when they most need help and support.
We hope that this new funding can be part of a more flexible approach taken by the DWP to recognise the real challenges people are facing in finding and keeping work in the midst of a devastating recession.
The package of support announced at the start of the crisis, in the form of the Jobs Retention Scheme, increases to Universal Credit, Local Housing Allowance, and the suspension of deductions and sanctions represented a significant strengthening of the safety net. Recent announcements about new funding for local welfare assistance and free school meals in England are also welcome. But this support that has been put in place is temporary and in some cases is already starting to ebb away. Yesterday’s announcement did not contain the much needed commitments to continue, or build on, these measures to help people struggling to cover the cost of essentials.
Our safety net must be able to help any of us who needs support to weather the storm. That is why along with our partners, we are continuing to call for a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme, to ensure social security acts as the lifeline we know it can be.
Encouraging people to eat out is one thing, but ensuring people have the means to eat at all must come first.