A leading charitable body has joined other NGOs in accusing Chancellor George Osborne of failing the most vulnerable in his Autumn Statement.
Reacting to the Autumn Statement, Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), said: “We heard much today about a responsible recovery, but a lot less about a fair one which helps those in greatest need.
“Today’s Statement contained some encouraging economic news. However for the 13 million people living in poverty the measures outlined will not be nearly enough to tackle the rising costs and lower incomes that they face.
“Few of the policies announced today specifically target these families, who have faced a 25 per cent increase in the minimum cost of living since 2008.
“Neither do they fully address the root causes of their hardship, many of which, such as the rising numbers of low paid and insecure jobs, pre-date the recession.
“The £1 billion to unlock stalled housing sites and the decision to increase the amount that local authorities can borrow to build more housing by £300 million is warmly welcome. Success will ultimately depend on the terms but both measures should help to spur additional supply.
“Higher housing costs, caused by insufficient supply, push three million more people into poverty and as well as being a source of higher welfare bills. Likewise, our low pay jobs market means tax credits are needed to top up insufficient wage slips.
“We all want to see a lower benefits bill, but doing so in a way which does not address the underlying causes means we risk increasing poverty, not reducing it.”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, said: "Measures in this year’s Autumn Statement hit low-income working families hard. Two-thirds of children in poverty are in working families, but by freezing the work allowance for Universal Credit over the next three years, the government is making it harder for families to make work pay.
"New changes to the way that tax credit overpayments are repaid could leave low income families worse off and drive them into debt.
"We welcome the announcement that free school meals are available to all children in infant school, following our Fair and Square campaign for all children in poverty to get a free school meal.
"It is also significant that the government is protecting support for home improvements to reduce energy bills for low income families until 2017. But if, as the Chancellor says, the government really wants to "repair the roof while the sun shines", much more needs to be done to help improve the lives of children living in poverty."
Carers UK responded to the Autumn Statement, saying: "Carers currently face a perfect storm of rising household bills, loss of income from giving up or reducing paid work and all the extra costs of caring and disability. Any measures to make household bills more affordable are welcome – however it is important to note that both of these measures are about freezing or slowing future rises in costs, not about cutting bills relative to current levels.
Whilst we recognise that rapid increases in life expectancy have implications for the State Pension age, Carers UK is deeply concerned that the impact that caring has on families’ ability to earn and save towards a pension are not being recognised.
We are increasingly seeing examples of catastrophic exit from the labour market where carers give up work in their 40s or 50s and unable to return to the workforce after a period of caring.
"In addition to lost income, increased likelihood of debt and loss of savings, the loss of over a decade of pensions contribution puts them at risk of long-term financial hardship.
"If the Government wants to enable families to work for longer, they must fund social care services which enable carers to combine work and caring, and deliver greater support and rights in the workplace. Otherwise, if the number of carers falling out of work in their 50s and 60s continues to rise, instead of leading to ‘longer working lives’ the rise in the State Pension age could simply mean carers spend longer in receipt of low-level carers’ benefits before they can receive their pension," said the national carers' organisation.
Carers UK has spoken out about the devastating impact the current benefit cuts are having and has expressed deep concerns about the changes still to come.
The NGO says: "We strongly reject an approach which sets an arbitrary limit on the amount that can be spent on social security and believe that support, including carers and disability benefits, should respond to what is needed in society, not pre-selected targets.
"Whilst the most ‘cyclical’ benefits (those where the numbers needing them increase and decrease in response to what is happening in the economy), including Jobseeker’s Allowance, wouldn’t be part of the cap, we know that other spending, for example on tax credits, increases when the economy goes through a difficult period. If the total benefits bill is limited then if spending on some benefits increases because of unemployment, it could result in cuts elsewhere, including to disability benefits."
Chararlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and research at National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) commented: "Many charities fear the new welfare cap will drive the government to make spending decisions that will lead to vulnerable people bearing the brunt of further cuts. Further details announced today do not resolve our concerns. We have called for a proper consultation on these proposals and also for any cap to have consultation mechanisms built into it.
"We heard further confirmation today that balancing the budget will be achieved primarily through central government spending cuts rather than tax increases. This means there will be no let-up in the continuing squeeze on public service budgets over the next few years.
"The announcement that social impact bonds will be eligible for the forthcoming social investment tax relief is welcome news.
"While there is a clear role for charities to help people gain employment skills through volunteering, charities will want to come to their own decisions about whether to take part in the proposed scheme that would oblige young jobseekers to do community work. Quite obviously, work that is mandatory isn't volunteering and shouldn't be mistaken for volunteering."
* More from Ekklesia on the Autumn Statement 2013: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/autumnstatement
* Joseph Rowntree Foundation: http://www.jrf.org.uk/
* Children's Society: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk
* NCVO: http://www.ncvo.org.uk
* Autumn Statement briefing from Carers UK (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.carersuk.org/media/k2/attachments/Autumn_statement_2013_-_Wha...