SVP’s Response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

Today’s Budget announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt comes at a time of increasing need, and against a backdrop of an ongoing Cost of Living crisis. Although inflation is now starting to come down, record numbers of people, including children, are experiencing deep and persistent levels of poverty.  

The Cost of Living crisis continues to affect millions of households, many of whom are being supported by members of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) and St Vincent’s centres across England and Wales. Over the past year we have provided over 126,000 meals through our regional centres and foodbanks and have given over £91,000 in grants to individuals and families in need through our Cost of Living emergency fund. 

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows a shocking 2 million households have been forced to switch off their fridge or freezer to save money1. The JRF found that four out of five households on universal credit are currently going without food or heating, and not replacing worn-out clothing. 

Against this backdrop, we strongly welcome today’s announcement by the Chancellor to increase Universal Credit and other benefits by 6.7% in line with the September inflation figure. This will offer a welcome respite for households in need. However, many households are still struggling to make ends meet, and we are therefore continuing to call for an Essentials Guarantee to help individuals and families meet their essentials.  

We welcome the increase in the national living wage to £11.44 an hour, a measure we have been calling for. 

We also welcome the announcement to return local housing allowance to 30% of local market rents, which will help many households, but there is still more to do to ensure people with low incomes are able to access decent housing in the private rented sector. 

Through our frontline services we are seeing a steep rise in demand for our help across the country and we know that without the support of the SVP, tens of thousands of families would fall into poverty and be denied the help they need to survive and the empowerment to pull themselves out of poverty and regain their dignity. 

We are therefore worried by today’s announcements around the ‘back to work’ plan. While we support efforts to ramp up employment support and moves to help people get back into work, we are extremely concerned about today’s announcement of a tougher sanction regime for people receiving social security payments. We support moves to help people back into work but urge the Government to revise its plan to create a punitive welfare system that risks leaving millions behind. The SVP has highlighted over the past years the rise in the level of poverty faced by millions of households. 

The ‘back to work plan’ announced today will make changes to social security payments and could leave many at risk of falling into debt and destitution. A welfare system increasingly reliant on sanctions will leave already vulnerable households at risk of falling into poverty. We are concerned about today’s announcement to reform the work capability assessment and changes to sanctions for people with the ‘no work search’ requirements. These will affect people in long-term unemployment and will require them to face mandatory work experience should they not find a job within 18 months. 

Today’s Budget delivered some welcome measures, primarily the increase in social security benefits and the increase of the national living wage. We have called for this and are pleased the Chancellor has listened. However, today’s announcement was also a missed opportunity to provide the urgent and necessary support to households across the country, and a worrying move towards a more punitive welfare system. As demand for our services continues to increase, we need urgent Government action to provide a strong welfare net that can support people who fall on hard times.