Politics

'Mummy can't afford it': Families worry about coping as DWP cost of living payments come to an end

Families have been left worrying about “how they are going to survive” as the cost of living payment comes to an end.

image of person looking sad/ benefits/ universal credit/ inflation

Low-income households are struggling as the cost of living payment comes to an end. Image: Pexels

Families have been left worrying about “how they are going to survive” as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)’s cost of living payments come to an end.

“It is so scary,” London mum Tayyaba Siddiqui told the Big Issue. “I lie awake at night, thinking what am I going to do, what is going to happen to me and my son.”

Some eight million households on means-tested benefits will receive their third and final cost of living support payment – a £299 sum – between now and 22 February. 

The payments were first announced in May 2022 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered rampant inflation and soaring energy bills. Then-chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a payment of £650 in two instalments in May; by November it was increased to £900 across three payments.

As the final cost of living payment hits bank accounts, the government has ruled out extending the scheme – a decision charities have warned will push vulnerable people “off a cliff edge.”

Tayyaba is one of these people. Trained as a physiotherapist, the 49 year-old works as a staff coordinator for the NHS – but her contract comes to an end in 10 days.

“I’m looking for a job, I want to work, I really need to work,” she says, but the job centre has not yet found her a suitable contract.

Forced to flee an abusive relationship several years ago, Tayyaba has raised her 13 year-old son alone. As a universal credit recipient, she was entitled to the cost of living payment.

Tayyaba Siddiqui

“In the morning [when I got the money], I was so happy. I said I will buy something nice for my son,” she recalls. But “it was all gone, in just one day” after she had to pay a bill and buy her son an item of school uniform.

“My shoes have holes in them. But I also need to buy shoes for my son. So I have to choose – shoes for me or shoes for him? I buy the shoes for him, of course,” she says. “Then he asks me, ‘Mummy, will you get new shoes too?’ I don’t want him to know that mummy can’t afford it.”

Tayyaba takes part in the Changing Realities project, working with more than 100 parents and carers across the UK and the University of York to document life on a low-income and push for change. Unfortunately, her story is far from uncommon. In November, a report by the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee found that the cost of living payments had offered only a “short-term reprieve” for many people struggling with high inflation and bills. While welcome, the cost of living payments simply didn’t meet the scale of the crisis.

The lump sums have been a “vital support”, said Ayla Ozmen, director of policy and campaigns at anti-poverty organisation Z2K, but don’t go nearly far enough.

“At best they’ve only covered up the cracks caused by the years of cuts that led to a cost of living crisis for many long before 2022,” she said. “And recent increases are only keeping pace with inflation, not undoing the damage.”

“Any of us who need it should be able to rely on social security to pay our rent, heat our homes, and put food on the table. One-off payments are no substitute for a properly-funded system.”

Stop the Squeeze, a coalition of 50 civil society organisations, trade unions and grassroots groups, said millions will face a financial “cliff edge” as cost of living support ends. They’re calling on the government to redesign the social security system to provide a guaranteed living income for all.

“We need a real plan for an affordable Britain, ensuring that everyone has access to an income that allows them not only to survive but to live well,” said Megan Davies, a Stop the Squeeze campaigner.

The calls come as millions of Brits struggle to make ends meet. Alarming new research from Citizens Advice has found that five million people are in a negative budget – a 50% increase in just three years. Average households in the red are £4,200 short of the cost of essentials every year.

A DWP spokesperson said that the cost of living payment is part of wider support.

“We keep all cost of living measures under constant review and have invested over £2 billion in the Household Support Fund over the last two years – with almost £800 million already paid to families with children to ease pressures,” they said.

“The fund is part of wider cost of living support worth on average £3,700 per household, including raising benefits by 6.7% from April and increasing the Local Housing Allowance.”

However, People like Tayyaba are left wondering how they are going to cope.

“It sounds rude maybe, because people think it is free money, but everything costs so much and I am by myself,’ she says.

“The scary thing is, there is no more coming. How will we survive? I want to go to the parliament on the Prime Minister’s Questions day and ask him: What do you want me to do?

“I want to give him that money and say: survive now.”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Mark Menzies scandal: How Tory sleaze may shape next UK general election as Sunak's party plummets
Mark Menzies
Politics

Mark Menzies scandal: How Tory sleaze may shape next UK general election as Sunak's party plummets

How Rishi Sunak's smoking ban became a fight between individual freedom and public health
Smoking ban

How Rishi Sunak's smoking ban became a fight between individual freedom and public health

Rishi Sunak is celebrating UK's inflation fall – there's just several problems
Inflation

Rishi Sunak is celebrating UK's inflation fall – there's just several problems

Liz Truss blames the 'deep state' and the 'establishment' for her downfall. Here's why she's wrong
liz truss
Politics

Liz Truss blames the 'deep state' and the 'establishment' for her downfall. Here's why she's wrong

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know