What the Spring Budget means for Norfolk
While the Chancellor’s spring budget has some welcome measures that will make a difference to people living in our county, we have to face the reality of the current situation.
Everyone in Norfolk will be facing changes. We are heading into what is claimed to be the biggest fall in living standards since the end of the Second World War. Inflation is at a 30-year high. The typical working-age household will be around £1000 out of pocket this year. Most people will have to forego some luxuries, like expensive holidays or eating out, but for some Norfolk people, these changes will mean cutting out essentials. Nationally, it is expected that a further 1.3 million people will fall into absolute poverty – meaning their income will be insufficient to meet basic needs.
Norfolk appears a wealthy county on the surface, but there are alarming levels of ‘invisible poverty’ – especially in rural areas where support is more difficult to access. Our local charities have been on the frontlines, tackling the most pressing issues like food and fuel poverty. Our county is a unique place, and the Spring Budget will have a unique effect on people living here.
Norfolk’s older housing stock is more susceptible to the cold, so news that VAT will be scrapped on energy efficiency materials like insulation and air source heat pumps is welcome. Efficiency measures can make significant dents in energy bills, but for those who already cannot afford to heat their homes, investing in these measures is out of reach, even with the VAT saving. ACRE has estimated that a colossal 1 in 3 homes in west Norfolk will fall into fuel poverty after 1st April when the new energy price cap comes in. No new measures to curb the rapidly rising cost of energy were announced.
What do we mean when we say ‘fuel poverty’?
Fuel poverty means that when someone spends the required amount to heat their home, they are left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
Tax, inflation and food
Several tax cuts were announced, and while nothing to complain about in themselves, they were not accompanied by any increases to benefits or any additional measures that will help keep more low-income households above the poverty line. The often cliché statement that people will have to ‘choose between heating or eating’ has never been more relevant.
Last year, it was estimated that 15,000 people in Norfolk had missed out on at least one meal in the last month because they couldn’t afford it. Since then, people on low incomes have found their budgets stretched further. The Foundation’s Nourishing Norfolk Programme has so far opened 3 food hubs, giving people access to affordable food and thus reducing strain on household budgets. We are launching 4 further hubs next month and hope to have 15 hubs operating across Norfolk by the end of the year, supporting 5,000 who are currently struggling to afford food every day. This has been made possible by the support of both local people and Norfolk County Council through our Nourishing Norfolk Programme.
Household Support Fund
The Chancellor has doubled the amount available through the Household Support Fund, which opened at the end of last year for local authorities to help those most in need.
Norfolk Community Foundation were selected as the partner to deliver this support because we work with the charities and community groups on the ground who are connected with and know where our most vulnerable people are. We saw how successful this approach was at distributing vital funding and support throughout the Covid response.
The fund helped around 11,000 households with food and fuel aid over the winter months. Although not a permanent fix, the Household Support Fund has helped to alleviate some of the worst hardship in our county during the past few months.
What it means for Norfolk Charities
The pressure on charities is going to be enormous, especially as the sector as a whole are expected to experience a £2 billion income dip as a result of these policies. Already running hot from working tirelessly through the pandemic to support Norfolk’s most vulnerable people, they will be expected to crank up a gear once again as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.
We are always thankful for our Norfolk VCSEs and will continue to support them through funding, professional advice and our networks as they help Norfolk’s most vulnerable people through this difficult chapter. We will also be ramping up our efforts to fund exciting, new projects that will push back against the current crisis.
We hope that we can continue working with Norfolk County Council to deliver the next round of the Household Support Fund, once again supporting vulnerable people through Norfolk’s charities, voluntary organisations and community groups. We are hopeful that the next round of funding will offer greater potential for meeting energy needs after the price cap increases in April. Our Nourishing Norfolk initiative also continues to roll out, but we are seeking additional support to accelerate its progress.