Joseph Rowntree Foundation's state of the nation report warns that rising energy bills will plunge more families into deep poverty for longer
RISING energy bills will "devastate" the poorest families this winter, warns a charity, which is demanding emergency payments from the government to rescue those who will be hardest hit.
With all households facing an increase in outgoings in the coming months, today's flagship state of the nation report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation paints a bleak picture for those already struggling to make ends meet.
Households on low incomes will be spending, on average, 18% of their income after housing costs on energy bills from the end of April, says the charity. For single adult households on low incomes this rises to a staggering 54%, while lone parents and couples without children will need to find around a quarter of their money for energy costs.
The analysis compares the household spend on gas and electricity bills of several different family types on both low and middle incomes between 2019-20 and after the energy cap increase scheduled for this April.
While there is little difference in the overall increase in bills from April, with all households facing an immediate rise of between around 40% and 47%, the difference in the proportion of household incomes these increases will represent is stark. In comparison to those on the lowest earnings, middle-income households are expected to spend on average six percent of their incomes on paying energy bills.
The state of the nation report, released annually by JRF, this year shines a light on the worryingly high numbers of children growing up in the UK in very difficult environments, which for many may only be about to get worse.
Around 1.8 million youngsters are currently in homes experiencing very deep poverty – meaning that the household's income is so low that it is unable to cover the basics. This represents an increase of half a million children between 2011/12 and 2019/20 – just before the pandemic hit.
The findings also highlight large numbers of children living on low incomes for prolonged periods of time, meaning that going without is all they have ever known or can remember.
The longer a family spends living on an income that doesn’t cover their basic costs, and the lower that income is, the worse the consequences – say those studying the mountains of data used to build the yearly insight into life in the UK.
People in this situation are likely to find it difficult to adequately heat their home, feed their family or provide the most basic items like clothing and furniture and growing up in poverty will impact every aspect of a child's life including their health and development, their attainment at school through to their future employment prospects.
JRF is warning that without additional support, people already in poverty are likely to find the sharp increase in energy bills very difficult to cope with and is calling for immediate emergency payments for people on the lowest incomes to help prevent further hardship in the months ahead.
Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of Policy & Partnerships at JRF said: "No childhood should be defined by a daily struggle to afford the basics. But the reality is that many children growing up today won’t have known anything else. The fact that more children are in poverty and sinking deeper into poverty should shame us all.
"Rising energy prices will affect us all, but our analysis shows they have the potential to devastate the budgets of families on the lowest incomes. The Government cannot stand by and allow the rising cost of living to knock people off their feet. The alarm is sounding loud and clear and the case for targeted support to help people on the lowest incomes could not be clearer."
Responding to the report, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said there were grave concerns about the poorest families in society.
He explained: "Low-income families are enduring a miserable winter of cuts to Universal Credit, soaring energy bills and the prospect of yet more price rises. Families with children are among the hardest hit by this crisis as they typically face bigger bills, have smaller savings and are less able to take on extra work.
"Living in fuel-poor homes is linked to a higher risk of physical and mental health problems in children and can negatively affect their development. Families that struggle to pay their bills can quickly find themselves in problem debt, which can be difficult to escape and is known to have a damaging impact on children’s well-being.
"Before this crisis becomes a catastrophe, ministers need to take urgent targeted action for these families. The best way to help low-income families with children is by increasing the child element of Universal Credit and bringing the value of benefits up in line with the rise in inflation."