Opinion

Gordon Brown: 'A poverty time-bomb is ticking across Britain'

Gordon Brown and other organisations, including the Big Issue, are calling on the government to act now to stop a winter of catastrophe.

Homeless tents in the shadow of Westminster. Photo: Maureen McLean/Alamy

Homelessness is now rising fast. The Big Issue reported just last week that 227,000 people are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – rough sleeping, sleeping in vans and sheds and stuck in B&Bs across England, Scotland and Wales.

And those numbers will sadly be rising as food and fuel bills soar and rent arrears force hard-pressed tenants out of their homes now that the support keeping a roof over vulnerable heads during the Covid crisis has gone.

Organisations and individuals from Child Poverty Action Group to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Metro Mayors and the First Minister of Wales and 56 faith leaders, are now so alarmed at the scale and speed of rising energy costs, and their devastating consequences, that they join me coming together to call on the government to act now to stop a winter of catastrophe.

We now welcome The Big Issue into our coalition and we value the support of this great organisation as we come together to expose the financial time-bomb that will explode on families eight weeks from now, on October 1.  

With millions standing on the edge of a financial precipice, we are calling for urgent measures to cover the cost of a further £1000+ rise in fuel bills on top of April’s already painful increases

The grim facts right now are that 27.7 m people in 14.5m households are staring at fuel poverty in October – an unprecedented 53 per cent of the United Kingdom’s population.

And the regional variations are as big as they are frightening. The fuel poor will range from 47.5 per cent in London to 60.8 per cent in Wales, 61.5 per cent in Scotland to 71.7 per cent  in Northern Ireland.

And, if nothing is done before another fuel price rise hits in January, the fuel poor could rise to 39.4m in 15.2m households – 56 per cent of the country, with even more stark regional variations.

It means for our old folk, one third of their statutory pension looks set to be taken up just paying for fuel bills.

And for our children, 40 per cent of whom are already going without what is needed to have a decent start in life, the future is becoming yet bleaker.

I estimate one in every two children will lose out as October fuel and food bills eat up the lion’s share of a family weekly budget. Let that sink in. Half of all children in the UK of 2022 are losing their right to a decent start in life.

For a family in the lowest decile of incomes whose budgets are already over-stretched, the share of their income taken up by food and fuel is already running at 37 per cent. Come October 1 it is expected to rise beyond 50 per cent.

So today our new Anti-Poverty Coalition co-founders are making an emergency appeal on behalf of those millions of despairing families and, on behalf half of all the children in Britain, to the government to big up and deliver a safety net to stop a winter of catastrophe.

Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunk and Liz Truss may not agree on much. But this week the PM and the candidates that want to be PM must show prime ministerial mettle and return from holiday, park their hustings and come together to prepare an emergency and immediate fourth budget of the year to fill the gaps left by the first three. 

Even after the council tax rebate, the fuel bill cut and the £650 universal credit pay out, families with children and millions of the disabled could be £30 to £40 a week short.

And now we are in a situation where eight million universal credit claimants – 87 per cent of whom are in work – do not have the luxury of waiting for a November budget. 

Because the computers at the Department of Work and Pensions take weeks to update, a September budget – when parliament returns with a new PM – cannot give them what they need ahead of October’s energy price rises.

So we are in race against time to stop millions of our fellow citizens falling off a fuel bill cliff edge on October 1. If neither the PM nor candidates who would be PM do not come together to defuse this financial time bomb, then, the pressure should grow to recall Parliament this month to force them.

The government has done too little to protect people this autumn. And soon it will be too late.

With funds for charity starting to dry up, and food banks under pressure , only one group of people can make the difference. Johnson, Truss and Sunak must take time off from holidays and hustings and lead Britain, its regions and nations, away from an autumn and winter of misery.

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.
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