THE head of an organisation on the frontline of poverty in the North-East has warned that the cost-of-living crisis is the worst she’s seen in a career spanning more than 30 years.
Angela Lockwood, chief executive of North Star Housing, says her staff are encountering “acute levels of destitution” as the crisis deepens, with more than 37,000 children living below the breadline in Teesside alone.
Consequences include tenants going cold to avoid heating costs, and foodbanks being asked to focus on supplying food that doesn’t require cooking to minimise the use of gas and electricity.
“It’s gone beyond deprivation – we are dealing with widespread destitution and it’s going to get a lot worse when we reach winter,” said Angela, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the social housing sector.
“Food and fuel prices have soared and ‘budget’ food staples, such as pasta, have increased by 50 per cent in the past 12 months. With the war in Ukraine adding to the economic challenges, we are facing the perfect storm.”
North Star is a not-for-profit housing association, providing affordable homes and services across Tees Valley, North Yorkshire, and County Durham. It manages more than 4,000 properties, five women’s refuges, as well as supporting school breakfast clubs, homeless people, and those facing mental health challenges.
Angela, who is also a non-executive director on the National Housing Federation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, said child poverty in one part of Middlesbrough has reached 60 per cent, with half of those coming from families with at least one person working.
“We are hearing from some of the schools that the ‘lucky ones’ are those on free school meals because some families are struggling to survive even though they’re juggling three jobs,” she added.
“According to our welfare rights team, those families have nowhere to go, other than to try and find a fourth job. They’ve never been in a position like this before where they’re just hitting a brick wall.”
However, Angela says the voluntary sector is working effectively with local authorities to support those in greatest need.
North Star has significantly increased its ‘welfare fund’ to around £200,000 for crisis grants in extreme cases, and is also exploring ways to proactively put support in place for any of its own 100 staff facing financial pressures.
She called on the Government to bring in a range of support measures, including:
- Providing free school meals for all children
- Reinstating the £20 Universal Credit uplift that was introduced during the pandemic but controversially withdrawn in October
- In-year benefit increases
- More funding for local authorities to support people in the community
“There are a lot of families out there who are facing desperate hardship, it’s going to get worse, and we need to ensure that children get at least one hot meal a day,” she said.