Will government offer any more help during the cost-of-living crisis?
- Credit: GREGG BROWN
Suffolk MP and government minister Therese Coffey says she is not aware of any plans to give people more help to cope with the cost-of-living crisis.
Dr Coffey's comments came as one Suffolk district said the number of food parcels given out has doubled - and fears the situation will worsen as heating and food bills rise further.
Foodbanks have already warned that families face a choice between "heating or eating".
Dr Coffey told the Work and Pensions Committee the support package announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help people through cost of living pressures is "substantial" and she is "not aware" of plans to increase it.
She said: "I think the £9 billion will be substantial support and, as I say, right now the Household Support Fund is open. People need to contact their local authority to deal with that."
The Work and Pensions Secretary defended the Government's approach to uprate benefits based on inflation data from five months ago that pre-dates the recent cost-of-living rises.
She said it was a reasonable and sensible decision to base the annual increase for inflation-linked benefits and tax credits on data from last year, providing a 3.1% rise in linked benefits and tax credits from April, even though inflation could hit 7.25% by then - and is unlikely to fall back to normal levels for two years, according to the Bank of England.
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Asked if this will leave people in an "impossible position for the next year", Dr Coffey said: "We have this consistent approach using the same index year on year... inflation moves around and I think it was a reasonable approach to continue with that consistency."
Citizens Advice Mid Suffolk said in 2021 that food parcel requests in the district were double what they were in the year before the pandemic.
CAB adviser Clare Peake said: "I’m seeing more and more people who are struggling to afford the essentials because they just don't have enough to cover their costs. I look for benefits or grants that clients can access to increase their income, but it’s been more difficult recently.
"The Warm Home Discount on energy bills used to cover the payments for whole winter period for some families. With rising energy costs, it now only contributes to a few months of bills. That’s before the increases that are coming in April.
"It’s especially hard for people under 25 because they get a lower rate of Universal Credit. It still costs them the same to live. It can be quite disheartening speaking to people in this situation. Even if they try really hard to budget there’s not much we can do.
"These financial pressures are not going away. There’s likely to be more cases of hardship even when people are claiming all possible benefits and awards.”