Rising fuel, food and housing costs combined with pressure on the NHS mean York is facing “one of the most challenging winters we’ve ever faced”, as the council cannot help everyone who needs it, a meeting heard.
Senior councillors were discussing a report into the financial support available to residents as the cost of living continues to bite.
Cllr Nigel Ayre, executive member for finance and major projects, said the council was doing everything it could to provide support, but said residents were “particularly anxious” as the city faced “significant challenges”.
Pauline Stuchfield, assistant director of customer and digital services, said more people with “significant vulnerabilities and complex needs” were turning to departments across the council for help.
Head of customer and exchequer services David Walker added: “What was difficult to articulate in the report, both in the community and across our services, is the number of customers who have come in – and we are providing support to some – but what we’re providing is nowhere near adequate for the financial demands on both fuel and rent.
“Some customers we are having to turn down, which we always have done.”
Through a combination of government and local funding, City of York Council provides a range of welfare support to residents, including food and fuel vouchers, housing payments and council tax support.
The breadth of this support was increased during 2020 through to 2022 to help residents during the pandemic and more recently with the cost of living increases.
While demand for some benefits has decreased from the heights of the pandemic, others continue to rise.
Jump in universal credit claimants
There are now nearly 11,500 Universal Credit claimants in York – nearly half of whom are in work – compared to 6,500 before the pandemic.
“This is a clear indication of the low wage economy in some sectors which is not taking residents away from reliance on welfare benefits,” the council’s report said.
From April 2021 to March 2022, council tenant rent arrears rose to more than £1.3m, an increase of 13.5 per cent. In July of this year, arrears stood at more than £1.6m.
Executive member for housing and safer neighbourhoods Cllr Denise Crahgill praised the one-off support being offered but said advice was also crucial to ensure people were claiming all the benefits they were entitled to.
She said: “Council budgets are under a lot of pressure. Some government support schemes have ended and we’re not getting enough support from the government.
It’s going to be really difficult to find that capacity that we need without further government action at the national level and support for local councils.”
She added: “We’re taking an approach of building longer-term resilience in communities, which is going to be really important in the circumstances.
“We are doing a lot on that, such as local area coordinators, housing officers, the two new food officers that we’ve got in place, supporting our grassroots food groups and plans for warm places.”
The council is also due to host a cost of living conference on 31 October.