Report: Turning down the Heat | Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent

Introduction to the report from Simon Harris, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke-on-Trent:

This is the latest in a series of reports that CASNS has produced describing the impact of the continuing cost of living crisis on our clients. You can read the report here.

When this crisis started in April 2022 no one expected us to be still in the grip of it 2 years later.

Nonetheless that is where we are. Although the month-to-month numbers may go up and down the underlying trend shows more and more people are being affected by this crisis and the need for additional support continues.

Background to the report

The roots of the crisis lie firmly in the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession.

Following the financial crash, we advised many more clients in debt, but the value of those debts was much smaller than before as we witnessed a huge shift away from credit cards, loans, store cards and other credit debts, and towards priority debts such as rent, mortgage, council tax and utilities.

We were also approached by more people with a negative budget, where their basic day to day living costs exceeded their income. Both of these developments suggested that even then more and more people were struggling to make ends meet.

Welfare Reform exacerbated the situation by reducing many people’s incomes, cutting benefits and increasing costs as local housing allowance was frozen and the amount of council tax support available was limited.

By 2021 turmoil in the energy markets saw domestic bills begin rise, a process that has been further exacerbated by the effects of the Ukraine invasion and recent high inflation.

Why is Stoke-on-Trent hit so hard?

Fuel Poverty: The April 2023 fuel poverty figures show that with 22.9% of households classed as fuel poor, Stoke-on-Trent had the second highest rate in the country after Birmingham. This showed an increase even from 2021 (21.8%)

In Newcastle-under-Lyme and Staffordshire Moorlands 18% of households were classed as fuel poor. This figure, while lower than Stoke-on-Trent, was still above the Staffordshire figure of15.8%.

Benefits and Universal Credit: Stoke still has rates of benefit claimants significantly above the national average. In November 2023, the claimant count was 8,765 people or 5.4%, compared to a Staffordshire figure of 2.8% and a national rate of 3.8%.

In November 2023 there were 33,647 people receiving Universal Credit. While this figure inevitably will rise as the migration from legacy benefits progresses, it still places Stoke-on-Trent 29th out of 309 districts.

Rates of personal insolvency are among the highest in the country while local estimates suggest between £80 and £100 million a year of benefit goes unclaimed, money that could make a huge difference to families affected by this.

Average earnings remain at 85% of the national average, as they have done for most of the last 20 years.