January is typically a tough month for household budgets, over the past few weeks the impact of Christmas spending will no doubt have been felt by many of us, with price comparison site Compare the Market discovering that over Christmas, on an average people take on a debt of £160.
This followed the reports last week that household bills have leapt 10 per cent, costing households almost £200 more per year. Even though wholesale energy prices fell in 2016, our household energy costs jumped by almost £100. Combined with Christmas debt, many of us will have starting the year £360 worse off than we were before.
Debt Lines latest research suggested 10% of Britons (5.5 million people) would fall behind with
their finances within the first few weeks of this year. Our own research – Vital Signs Calderdale also revealed worrying levels of income deprivation here in Calderdale.
Staggeringly 33,668 people in Calderdale are income deprived, including 7670 pensioners. These figures also include both families that are out-of-work currently over 3000 children locally affected and families that are in work but who have low earnings currently over 8,000 local children affected, a leap in household bills and Christmas debt will further add to the financial strain they are experiencing.
At the Community Foundation we are always seeking ways to eradicate inequality and provide fairer life chances to everyone in Calderdale, clearly financial deprivation needs to be addressed locally especially in light of these figures. We have partnered with Calderdale Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to specifically target support for families identified as the most vulnerable in Calderdale and who are excluded in a number of ways from society by poverty.
Over the next three years we will invest £20,000 per year and work closely with Calderdale CAB to make a positive step change to these families’ finances, recognising that without this support, they cannot change the rest of their lives.
The introduction of Universal Credit which will be rolled out to all claimants by 2019 and paid to one member of the family unit will create additional problems for some of these families. Currently it is likely that one person receives Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits etc and the other probably receives Job Seekers Allowance. Within a “controlling” family relationship under UC all the payments will be made to a single member of the family group. The obvious issues related to this could be exacerbated if the relationship involves domestic violence and abuse.
Interventions within the family unit by a knowledgeable benefits caseworker as part of this project will help ensure that the family income is allocated to the appropriate member and hopefully allow for the income to be utilised properly allowing the possibility of independence and empowerment based upon a known and legitimate income stream.
Once these financial issues are removed the ability for individuals to participate in society are increased manifold. The levels of ongoing stress created by lack of income and the burden of never ending debt will also be lifted. Leading to a reduction in clinical interventions by GP’s, preventing further demands on public services.
Having gained positive benefits from engagement with the charity the hope is that these families will see the long term benefits and realistic possibilities of turning their lives around. The long term hope is that they will achieve independent living where they might no longer require the help of dedicated support.
The project is aiming to support 150 families, but with further donations much more could be achieved. If you would like to find out how to support the Community Foundation as an individual or as a business, please visit localgiving.org/appeal/25Fund/ or us on call 01422 349700.