There is no doubt that this is a very challenging time for households, so NIFHA welcomes the Chancellor’s decision to increase benefit levels in line with inflation and provide targeted support with the cost of living for those on the lowest incomes. Proper welfare support is something NIFHA has been calling for though our work with the Cliff Edge Coalition, and Government needs to be driving the response to cost of living concerns. Housing associations in the region, through NIFHA’s Cost of Living Commitment, will continue to assist social housing tenants with targeted support to help maximise their benefit entitlements and provide budgeting information and hardship funds. Associations also offer referrals to other forms of support and advice, and signposting to foodbanks to help tenants who are struggling with everyday essentials.
We already know that food costs and energy prices are big concerns, so we are pleased to see an extension to energy bill support beyond March 2023. A cause of concern is that general opinion is that energy prices will remain high beyond when the support is due to end in 2024, which will be extremely worrying for tenants. The increase to £200 for support originally targeted at the 67% of households here on oil heating, will provide another element of one-off support and will now be provided to all regardless of what fuel is used by the household. However, frustratingly we continue to remain in the dark as to what form, and when, eligible people can expect to receive the original £400 energy cost of living payment and NIFHA calls for urgent clarity on this issue.
Increasing the National Living Wage to £10.42 is good news for low-income households but will have unintended consequences for the likes of Supporting People providers. Supporting People providers are chronically underfunded and will struggle to pay the new wage without it coming at a cost to service delivery. Many Supporting People services are already running at a deficit and have not been protected against the rise in energy costs.
It remains to be seen if the additional £650m that the chancellor announced for public services in Northern Ireland could secure much needed investment in Supporting People or help ramp up the provision of new social homes to tackle housing waiting lists but is well received news, given the budget insecurity we have this year due to the lack of a functioning assembly. NIFHA again appeals to the Stormont Parties to get back round the table, form an executive and steer the region out of this cost of living crisis.