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Children at risk of destitution as local services struggle under cost of living

Posted on 30 January 2023

A survey of elected councillors has revealed that 80% of local leaders in the UK are concerned that as services struggle as a result of the cost of living crisis, children will face a life of poverty.

Researchers interviewed just over 700 members of local councils

The research, conducted by the University of York’s Cost of Living Group, also showed that there was significant concern about the capacity of local councils and public services to respond to the crisis, with 70% fearing that health and social care services lack sufficient resources.

Researchers interviewed just over 700 members of local councils in the UK via an online panel, where concerns about the longer term impacts on local economies were raised, with three-quarters of councillors agreeing that small local retailers in their area were at risk of closing due to the rising cost of living, with particular challenges to local pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Common concerns

Neil Lunt, Professor of Social Policy at the University of York, said: “It is really important to hear from local leaders to identify common concerns, as well as unique problems, so that ideas and support can be offered and shared.  It is particularly important for young families who are fearful for the future, as there has to be a plan in place to prevent such harmful effects going forward.

“Several local authorities have declared a cost of living emergency in response to the current crisis and a number have cost of living task forces or commissions as they try to address the challenges that have increased demand on their services at a time when budgets are stretched thinly.

“It was a fairly bleak picture, with a significant number of leaders concerned that children would struggle to eat, stay warm, dry and clean in the way that they should be able to under normal circumstances.”

Policy innovation

Only one in five councillors agreed that the government’s Autumn Statement would equip their local authority to respond to the ongoing challenges. The research pointed to the need for policy innovation at a local level to respond to the crisis.  

Some local authorities for example had established a cost of living fund, while many had set up ‘warm banks’, and dedicated cost of living digital guidance tools for residents in their area.  However, most agreed current efforts would not be sustainable if there were any further ‘financial shocks’ in the future.

The research is part of the University of York Cost of Living Research Group’s LOcale Authorities and the Cost of Living Emergency (LOCALE) project, supported by The York Policy Engine and  funded by the Research England Policy Support Fund.

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