This Monday (5 September), we celebrate the International Day of Charity with six non-profit organisations gearing up to help the UK with rising energy bills and record-high inflation
High energy prices and tax increases have put a severe strain on households around the UK. Just a few days ago, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets announced that the energy price cap will increase to £3,549 per year for dual fuel for an average household from 1 October 2022. This projected increase in Ofgem’s price caps is also expected to cause CPI (Consumer Price Inflation) to rise to around 13% in October, according to the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Report.
With more and more people finding themselves at risk of being unable to pay their energy bills or even feed their families, various charities have stepped up to lend a helping hand to those in need. From delivering emergency food parcels to offering financial support to people grappling with growing debt, these non-profit organisations are banding together to help the UK get through the hard times ahead.
Independent Food Aid Network
The Independent Food Aid Network has brought together more than 550 independent food banks around the UK in an effort to provide food security for all. Since 2018, the charity has been collating food bank data and advocating on behalf of its member organisations, which help people through a number of food aid initiatives, including handing out food parcels. At the same time, IFAN has been campaigning for changes that would eventually end the need for charitable food aid in the UK altogether.
The network is committed to a cash-first approach to food insecurity, explains coordinator Sabine Goodwin says the. “Despite the best efforts of our members to support people with emergency food parcels and other food aid, we know that food won’t address the root cause of poverty and that most people struggling to afford food won’t access a food bank in any case,” she adds.
As a result, the charity is working with local authorities and other local groups to co-produce cash-first referral leaflets to help people see which agencies are best placed to help with available cash first options. The charity’s step-by-step Worrying About Money? leaflets are available from more than 80 local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales.
StepChange Debt Charity
Founded in 1993, this organisation helps support people experiencing money problems, while campaigning for change to reduce the harm and stigma associated with debt. StepChange’s team of debt experts help hundreds of thousands of people every year, over the phone and online, supporting them to achieve long-term financial control by providing practical advice based on their circumstances. Debt solutions range from help with forming a debt management plan to offering advice on bankruptcy and equity release.
Given the financial challenges facing UK citizens right now, there seems to be greater need for assistance with debt. “We’re seeing first-hand how the cost of living crisis is impacting households across the UK, and how the pressure of rising prices is being felt most acutely by those on lower incomes and people experiencing debt problems,” says Fiona Hughes, media officer at StepChange Dept Charity.
“If you’re feeling stressed about your finances or have fallen into financial difficulty, it’s really important to get help straight away. Reaching out is the most important step you can take in addressing your debt problems and relieving that worry,” adds Fiona.
Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
As well as the practical challenges of trying to cope with high energy prices and tax hikes, the rising cost of living is also taking a toll on many people’s mental health.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is campaigning to address mental distress in a number of ways — one of which is by calling for people with mental health problems to be entitled to national concessionary travel schemes and local authority discretionary schemes. This would allow people to spend less on public transport when needing to travel for treatment (people have said they missed an appointment because they couldn’t afford to travel). The charity is also calling on the government to ensure that everyone can get the help they need with Universal Credit.
Martin Lewis, chair and founder of Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and one of the UK’s most high-profile campaigners against the cost of living crisis, is committed to helping people with both money and mental health issues, which are often interlinked. “Money and mental health problems can be a marriage made in hell,” he says. “We’re here to change that.”
Energy Saving Trust
Rising household energy bills have been a major contributor to the crisis. The energy price cap, which is expected to go up from 1 October, will affect millions of people in England, Scotland and Wales, who’ll struggle to pay their bills.
Independent non-profit organisation Energy Saving Trust works with businesses, governments, local authorities and community groups across the UK and internationally to empower householders to make better energy choices every year and, ultimately, help achieve a zero-carbon society. It works with governments on transformative energy programmes and supports businesses with energy efficiency strategies and research, enabling them to play their part in building a sustainable future.
“Improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s inefficient homes through a mass retrofit programme is the most effective way to permanently get bills under control, reduce our reliance on a volatile global fossil fuel market and cut carbon,” says Mike Thornton, chief executive of Energy Saving Trust.
Of course, there are always little things we can do to minimise our carbon footprint, while saving money along the way. Switching to low-carbon modes of transport — preferring trains over planes or riding an electric bike around town — is a good place to start.
Money Advice Trust
When it comes to tackling debt, there’s another charity making a difference. Founded in 1991, the Money Advice Trust helps people across the UK manage their money with confidence and address their debts.
The charity offers a number of support tools, including National Debtline, which provides free debt advice and resources, and Business Debtline, which provides free debt advice for small business owners and the self-employed (both services are available over the phone, online and via webchat). The Debt And Mental Health Evidence Form, meanwhile, provides creditors with a way to collect external evidence about a customer’s mental health situation to decide what support to give them.
“These are really challenging times, with the rising cost of living placing a huge strain on many peoples’ financial and mental health,” says Jane Tully, director of external affairs and partnerships at the Money Advice Trust. “Our advisers are playing a crucial role in supporting people through these difficulties. Beyond the practical advice, hearing a friendly, supportive voice can make a huge difference.”
According to the chief executive of Turn2us, Thomas Lawson, “Today’s meteoric rise in the energy cap will cripple those of us in the UK already struggling to stay afloat.”
But the charity is now helping people overcome financial difficulty via a dedicated helpline and useful online tools — the Benefits Calculator lets users know which means-tested benefits they may be entitled to (including tax credits), while the Grants Search allows them to look for charitable funds or other types of financial help.
Turn2us has been fighting UK poverty since 1897, its work being far from done over a century later. According to the charity, 47% of its service users have nothing to live on each week after paying rent, bills and council tax. Aiming to end financial insecurity once and for all, Turn2us’s campaigns raise these issues, challenge the stigma of seeking financial help and show people and organisations how they can get involved.
“We implore the government to act with urgency and introduce a cap on energy costs that means that we can heat our homes and turn on the lights as we head into winter,” adds Thomas.