Low-income families ‘terrified for winter’ as inflation stays high

31 October 2023

As the Government’s autumn cost of living payment starts to hit doormats from today, Child Poverty Action Group and Changing Realities warn that they won’t be enough to prevent more hardship for families with children this winter.  New analysis for CPAG shows a big gap for struggling families between benefit levels and rising prices - benefits for a couple with two children having increased by only £2000 since before Covid, while energy and food have together risen £4000 in that time.  The cost of living payments are flat-rate payments and so don’t adjust to household size –  a single childless person receives the same as a family of four. What families need is certainty that benefits will be increased at least in line with inflation.  

Low-income parents from the Changing Realities project warn they are ‘terrified for this winter’ as inflation stays high. Low-income families are especially vulnerable to inflationary pressures as they spend a higher proportion of their budgets on food, housing and energy.  New analysis for Changing Realities shows the lowest income families spend twice as much (as a share of total spending) as richer families on housing, water, electricity and food.  

Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said:

There is no let-up for low-income families as the cost of living crisis continues to bear down on them and 4.2 million children are living in poverty.    People are deciding now how best to deal with the hunger and cold to come.  A real-terms income cut next April would be unmanageable for these families. The Chancellor must do right by children and commit to an inflation-based benefit increase. To do otherwise would pull many more children into poverty with the government attempting to balance the books at their expense.

Professor Ruth Patrick from the University of York who leads Changing Realities project said:

Our new analysis makes clear just how vulnerable the poorest households are to continued high prices. Those with the least spend the greatest proportion of their income on food, energy and housing, and have completely run out of places to cut back. Families face a constant, daily crisis as they struggle to make ends meet, and are terrified of how they will survive this winter. The Government must act, and uprating benefits in line with inflation is a vital first step to providing families with more security this winter.

Parent-participants in the Changing Realities project report:

“The first time since the weather has turned – am on emergency gas and my daughter’s telling me she’s cold. It breaks my heart as she just turned around and said, “I’ll just put a jumper on”. It’s gonna be a long cold winter, I can’t keep my heating on.” (Charles 22nd September 2023)

“… while the price of some things has gone back down a bit … there are still millions of families, like mine, that are going to have no choice but to leave the heating turned off this winter and stay cold in our own homes due to the cost. ((Erik, single, disabled parent, 8th September 2023)

“ I had the biggest bill I’ve ever had in my life from February to May this year, and I’ve only just paid it off, so the prospect of that happening again is terrifying.” (Evelyn, 25th September 2023) 


“This September has hit the hardest. I have had to make cuts to what I buy in terms of school uniform, eking out last year’s tattered uniform and making do with items outgrown. The cost of childcare has increased, too, and that has put an enormous strain on my budget. “(Aurora, 8th September 2023) 

Things are still creeping up....there are fewer options for making any more cuts now. And as my children get older, there are bigger costs associated with them. It still feels very overwhelming. (Sadie, 8th September 2023)

No bills have come down...Food shopping hasn't come down. .We're just having to survive any way we can. It's definitely not getting any better, if not worse. (Roxy, 8th September 2023)

I’m finding now more than ever I’m really losing sleep over worrying about money. ... it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. I’ve just got my daughter a place in playgroup because it’s cheaper than ‘childcare’ to try and free up some hours for me to be able to get back to work and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to manage. It’s £210 a month for only 12 hours a week. Jobs don’t even pay an hourly rate that’s enough to cover it.  (Savanna, 8th September 2023

 I've never had such expensive shopping, such expensive services, and just generally the amount that is coming in won't be enough to cover what's going out. And I'm frightened and I'm really sick of being frightened... (Evelyn, 9th September 2023)


In addition to uprating benefits in line with inflation, Changing Realities and CPAG want an immediate:

- sustained investment in social security (in place of flat-rate, cost-of-living support payments)

- abolition of the two-child limit and benefit cap and

- unfreezing of the Local Housing Allowance.

Download the report