Every week when I speak with residents I hear stories of people struggling financially, who are desperately in need of help.
Whether that’s families in overcrowded housing, older people struggling to heat their homes, or people facing the choice whether to heat or eat, it’s become distressingly normal to hear these stories.
I want to stress, nothing about these problems or the services currently plugging the gaps should ever be normal. We’re doing everything we can to help those in the most need, and we have strong partnerships with the many charities, voluntary groups and other services that also offer help.
As a council, we’ve been focused on this since the pandemic. Last summer we organised cost of living drop-in events for residents to get essential help and information on where they could find wider support within their community. In the autumn we developed a network of warm spaces ready for the coldest weather. It’s now spring but nights are still cold, the government energy support ended at the start of this month, and people still have to choose to heat or eat. This is a crisis that is deepening, it must not be normalised.
We want to see more being done by central government to tackle the problem. Last month’s budget gave little help beyond extending the energy price cap for another three months. To really make a difference we need an increase in the most basic safety net, Universal Credit – which has nearly 40% of claimants in work. We need better targeted help for people struggling with energy costs. And we need to see more done for children caught in this crisis, including free school meals being extended through the holidays.
We’re not waiting for change, we’re getting out there ourselves and working with communities to help right now. There are school holiday activities starting this week that provide young people with a safe place, new experiences, and often a free meal. We’re providing emergency cost of living support so that people don’t have to choose between heat or eat. We are looking at how warm spaces helped residents and how we can continue this help throughout spring and summer. We support community larders across the city, providing a really affordable way to add to top up groceries each week – and many provide a free warm space café or a pay as you can meal.
If you need help in Oxford there is help available. As the council, or a local advice centre, or check online www.oxford.gov.uk/costofliving.
If you want to help, please consider volunteering or donating.
Councillor Shaista Aziz, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Communities and Culture