Guest post: 'With so many families in crisis, we need to remove the stigma around benefits'
There are now more working households living in poverty than there are non-working households – 6.7 million in total. Here, Karen Holmes from Turn2us - a charity which helps people in financial need - writes about the impact this is having on families, many of whom don't know that help is available.
Benefits Specialist at Turn2us
Posted on: Fri 16-May-14 15:41:10
(26 comments )
Recent statistics and reports are telling us that the UK economy is showing signs of recovery, and that employment is on the rise. Whilst this news seems promising, it doesn't tally with the reality for families we talk to up and down the country.
Isaac, a father in full-time work, is a good example. He told us: “my wages simply weren't enough to support my family and we started to fall behind on our rent and bills. Affording the right food for my children and keeping the house warm became too much of a stretch.” Natalie and her partner - new parents who found that their income was falling short of covering their bills and childcare costs - have been left “constantly in debt.”
Isaac and Natalie are far from alone – the latest national figures show that, for the first time, there are now more working families living in poverty than there are non-working families – a staggering 6.7 million in total.
Part of the problem is a lack of secure employment opportunities. In our latest research, we uncovered that over half (57%) of working parents want to work more hours, but cannot get the work.
The growth in employment levels – so lauded by those keen for signs of financial recovery – is mostly being fuelled by an increase in self-employment. That might sound okay, but last week's report by the Resolution Foundation has shown that those working for themselves are, on average, earning 40% less than a typical employee, and many of those who have become self-employed in the last five years have done so through a lack of alternative options. This, along with the recent rise in zero-hours contracts which offer employees no guaranteed minimum hours of paid work, mean the job market is looking increasingly unstable.
For the millions of people living on the cliff edge of poverty, every month is a battle to survive. Just one piece of bad luck, such as job loss, family breakdown or illness, could have a serious impact on household income. Welfare benefits are a crucial safety net – one that's there to be used.
Clearly, the effects of economic improvements have yet to reach many working families. 63% told us that their financial situation has worsened in the last year, 49% say that their outgoings now outweigh their earnings.
Unsurprisingly, this is having a negative impact on their well-being, with almost half (48%) of the working parents we spoke to saying that they've cut back on food and other essentials. Nearly two-fifths (38%) are losing sleep - and almost a third (30%) report depression as a result of their situation.
So it's more important than ever that people know how to access the financial support available to them. We found that lots of people weren't aware of the welfare benefits and tax credits that they might be eligible for - 60% of all working households have not checked, or don't know how to check, whether they could claim this support.
For the millions of people living on the cliff edge of poverty, every month is a battle to survive. Just one piece of bad luck, such as job loss, family breakdown or illness, could have a serious impact on household income. Welfare benefits are a crucial safety net - one that's there to be used. We know that people can often be reluctant to turn to charities or claim benefits when times get tough – but we want to help people see past any perceived stigmas, so that families who never expected to face financial difficulty feel no shame in accessing support.
Of course this work won’t stop the root of the problem – and so much more needs to be done to prevent these families falling into poverty in the first place - but at least we have a chance to improve people’s lives in the here and now.
So, we're encouraging everyone to have a quick look at our free online Benefits Calculator, to see what they could be entitled to and how to make a claim. Even if people have checked their eligibility before, it is always worth doing so again - particularly if they've recently experienced a change in circumstances such as a decrease in income, having a baby or separating from a partner.
There's lots more information and help on our website, whether you are employed full-time or part-time, are self-employed, on a zero hours contract or on long term leave.
The impact of economic recovery may not be felt for some time, so we need to act now - our hope is that more families experiencing similar problems will use the help that they’re entitled to.
By Karen Holmes
And yes Corey I would think rent has a lot to do with it. We'll be seeing the full impact of the bedroom tax (sorry, that name has stuck I can't remember the "proper" term) over the coming months and years, as all those who have absorbed the cost now face benefit reduction if in arrears.
I think the term benefits can be misleading. I think most people on benefits are either working families with children or retired. In the uk there are no tax breaks for families, only benefits.
Equally high benefits societies usually have high taxes. There are people who never work, but I think the majority of benefit recipients are also tax payers.
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