Thoughts on the autumn statement

This month, the Food Foundation reported that over half of households receiving Universal Credit skipped meals to make ends meet. What makes this even more shocking is that around half the families receiving Universal Credit are in work. As the Chancellor prepares to deliver his budget, reversing the reality of growing and deepening poverty in the UK must be at the forefront of his mind. 

In the short term, people need to get through the winter. We know an average family of four receiving Universal Credit will need £1,400 more this year than last simply to maintain the standard of living they had last winter, even taking into account the various additional payments and energy caps. While churches and civil society prepare to do their part this winter by opening warm banks and supporting foodbanks, government must do its part and ensure that low income families and their children enough for the essentials. 

In the long term we need the Chancellor, alongside other leaders in our nation, to recognise that mass poverty and hunger should not and need not exist in a country as wealthy as the UK. It is an outrage that it exists today and a moral imperative that steps are taken to turn that tide. 

The last decade was rightly viewed as economically disappointing but there remains huge and growing wealth in the UK. Over the past decade, the average household income grew from £28,000 to £32,000; the average household wealth including housing, pensions and investments has increased from around £200,000 to over £300,000, and FTSE 100 company values increased by almost half. Despite the difficulties our collective wealth per person has steadily increased. 

But we also know that those increases in wealth did not find their way to large parts of society. Poverty over the last decade increased from 13.1 to 14.6 million people. Destitution, a form of poverty we thought had all but vanished in the UK, soared past 1.5milion in 2015 to 2.5 million by the start of the pandemic.  

Entering this budget round the conversation has been framed by increasing inflation alongside political and economic instability. While there are undoubted challenges, we should not convince ourselves that our nation is poor or that we cannot afford to ensure people have the basics. Leaving people without would be a choice, a choice lacking in compassion or morality. 

Churches, through foodbanks, debt centres and by simply remaining present and faithful, have been alongside those who were at the sharp end of the last decade’s economic choices. Whatever decisions the Chancellor makes simple justice demands that this time these communities are protected.  

Paul Morrison
Policy Adviser |Joint Public Issues Team|