With restrictions lifted, people able to go back work and the financial pressures of covid eased, we must now look beyond emergency measures and address the causes of poverty and tackle inequalities in our society.
The support provided throughout the pandemic has been unprecedented, but has come at a huge economic cost, and cannot continue indefinitely. Yet while the welfare state provides a safety net, in too many cases the cost of living is placing too great a pressure on low-income families.
With rising energy and fuel prices placing even greater pressure on household budgets, we must find a way to support low-income families, while dealing with the wider economic situation we face.
The Government’s announcement of a £500 million fund to provide grants to those in need will provide much needed support this winter. But we also need long term solutions to provide certainty and stability for families.
The answer cannot be to simply provide more money. The fact is we cannot afford it and every additional pound borrowed now will mean more debt and interest payments in future. We must look instead at the cost of living.
During the recent inquiry by the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC), of which I am a member, it became clear that addressing the costs of childcare and housing would have a much greater impact on family budgets than retaining the Universal Credit uplift. Addressing cost and provision of childcare would also remove a key barrier to parents returning to work, giving people the opportunity to benefit further.
Housing costs are the other major pressure on household budgets. In areas such as Runnymede and Weybridge, we all know that ‘affordable’ rents are still unaffordable for many, and home ownership is out of reach for too many due to the high housing costs. We must look at ways to support more social housing so everyone can afford a decent home.
Levelling up is not about geography, but about addressing inequality. There are people struggling all across the country and those in areas with a high cost of living are often overlooked despite being in some of the greatest need. And there are measures that we can deploy to help that do not involve subsidies or spending – recent announcements such looking into the staff to child ratio in nurseries show how we can help make childcare more affordable without costing the taxpayer.
Addressing the cost of living will have a major impact on the wellbeing of low-income families. In addition to the points highlighted during the WPSC’s inquiry, I will also be calling on the Chancellor to take action to address the cost of childcare and housing in the upcoming Spending Review.