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Struggling New Forest residents forced to choose between heating and eating as living costs soar, claims Citizens Advice New Forest

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SOME New Forest residents are having to choose between heating their homes or eating as they struggle to keep up with soaring costs of living and bill hikes, research has found.

Citizens Advice New Forest (CANF) is calling for a poverty action plan after it faced some of its busiest weeks ever at the start of 2022.

“There are people who are having to live and sleep in one room of their house because they can’t afford heating or going to bed at 5pm because their homes are so cold,” said Alison Talbot, CANF chief officer.

The New Forest Basics Bank has seen demand hugely increase over the past year
The New Forest Basics Bank has seen demand hugely increase over the past year

“It isn’t just people on benefits – people in work are having to use food banks because they simply can’t cover their essential costs. Low-income families have been hit by soaring energy bills and rising inflation.”

She warned worse was to come, with an estimated £700 hike to annual energy bills in April, adding: “A tough winter is set to be followed by an even tougher spring.”

Her call followed a report into the cost of living in the New Forest that concluded it was an area of “great inequality”, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It highlighted the surging cost of food, with the size of stores determining the prices they charged. For example, the same basket of items in the New Milton Tesco supermarket cost £16.27 – compared to £38.70 at the Brockenhurst Express store.

Many New Forest residents struggle to live comfortably on their income, it found, citing high private-rented housing costs, the lack of low-cost housing, poor transport offerings and limited employment opportunities, childcare and the high cost of food.

The research was carried out by Southampton University, commissioned by CANF along with four local foodbanks and Youth and Families Matter, Community First, and New Forest District Council.

It surveyed 79 residents, with in-depth interviews with 20 more, and spoke to 12 people who worked in advice and help services.

Residents described strug-gling to afford to live and find work in an area dominated by hospitality businesses with poor transport links that failed to match up to the hours those jobs required people to work, and often offered only the minimum wage.

A woman in her 60s was described as doing six separate cleaning jobs in New Milton and Lymington and travelled to them by bicycle. Another person interviewed had been waiting on the housing list for 11 years.

Interviewees said council tax seemed “extortionate” considering the services they received, adding communities had been detrimentally affected by Hampshire County Council closing the doors on children’s centres, while small villages and towns felt cut off and isolated.

In summary, the report suggested utilising mobile welfare support services, increasing the amount of community resources and hubs, subsidising transport and giving out means-tested parking clocks and creating a working group to put together a poverty action plan.

It is available to read at newforestcab.org.uk/cost-of-living-in-the-new-forest

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