Responding to the Autumn budget

The headlines from this week’s budget are that we are now in a recession and that average household disposable income faces a record drop of 7% over the next 2 years. However, in an unequal country like the UK averages figures often hide huge disparities. While middle income families face income reductions of between 0 and 5%, the poorest families lose most with the least well-off tenth seeing an eye watering drop of 17%. Only the wealthiest 10th of households are expected to see any rise in disposable income.

In the 6 months to September Trussell Trust foodbanks gave out 1.3 million food parcels – more than at any time in the Trust’s history, even during the pandemic. Over 300,000 people turned to foodbanks for the first time including increasing numbers of working families. These numbers are expected continue to rise this winter as energy and food prices bite further into family finances. The budget did nothing to halt this increase. No further support was offered for this winter and the inevitable consequence is more families making their way to foodbanks.

As a response to this increasing need there are now over 2,000 churches including many Methodist Churches, offering a warm place to go for people whose homes may be cold this winter. They are called “Warm Welcomes” because there is an ambition to be much more than simply a place to huddle together for warmth. They aim to offer a space where people can contribute and be respected as the individuals made in the image of God, we know them to be - whether or not they have money for the pre-pay meter.

“Warm Welcomes” were conceived as an emergency response for this winter. All agree they should not be needed next winter, let alone become part of our social fabric as foodbanks have.

In April next year benefits will rise in line with inflation and Cost of Living payments will continue at a higher level. However, the support for energy prices will be been reduced therefore the net effect is to marginally reduce the overall support for low-income families.

The result for the least well off, who got the worst of the austerity years and the sharp end of the pandemic, is no further help this winter and slowly falling support for next winter. There were worse options available to the Chancellor, such as cutting benefits or the unequal tax cuts of the ill-fated October budget, but we need to recognise that this option does nothing to stem what Trussell Trust has called a “Tsunami of Need”.

It does not have to be like this. The economy is taking a hit, but government and others have many ways of influencing which households bear the brunt. Over the next weeks and months churches alongside partners must make it clear that this scale of poverty exists in the UK and is unacceptable. It can be changed; it should be changed and if we work together to build public and political will it will be changed.