Posted on 18 May 2023 in uncategorised

Publication: Running on Empty

This report explores the uneven impact on individuals and charitable organisations of the cost-of-living crisis as it intersects with the legacies of austerity. It offers several policy recommendations to address the current crises.

Alison Briggs
Sarah Marie Hall

In April, the ISRF published Running on Empty: Austerity, Rising Costs of Living and Growing Inequality for People and Charitable Organisations in Northern England, a research report by Dr Alison Briggs and Professor Sarah Marie Hall.

Building on the ongoing Austerity and Altered Life-Courses research project, the report discusses how individuals and charitable organisations in Northern England are ‘running on empty’ in their effort to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and the aftermath of austerity. On the basis of a thorough analysis of the uneven impacts of these crises, the report develops five interlinked recommendations: (1) enable a move towards embedding cash-first approaches to supporting low-income households; (2) expand Free School Meal Provision to all children in England; (3) end austerity and recommence investment in social security; (4) implement actions to increase people’s income; (5) implement housing reform.

The report’s Executive Summary is reproduced below. To read or download the full report, go here.

The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and not those of the Independent Social Research Foundation.

Executive Summary

This report exposes how people and charitable organisations in the UK are ‘running on empty’ as they face the relentlessness of poverty, austerity, and the rising costs of living. Responding to these critical issues being experienced across the UK with a specific focus on two urban areas in Northern England, it considers why this present moment is widely described as a crisis and offers evidence- based solutions resulting from engagement with local and regional communities. Presenting up-to-date research, this report draws on the ongoing Austerity and Altered Life-Courses international research project led by Professor Sarah Marie Hall, and builds upon knowledge from Dr Alison Briggs’s recent research concerning food insecurity and charitable food aid in Stoke-on-Trent.

Bringing together these in-depth qualitative studies, the report also presents new evidence from engagement with local charities and community organisations within two urban areas in Northern England with high rates of poverty and deprivation: Manchester and Stoke-on- Trent. Informative conversations with such organisations confirmed our research findings and recommendations; that highly valuable, public-facing work is often considered the last line of defence

against the cost-of-living crisis. This report therefore seeks to provide new insight into how this latest crisis is being experienced by these organisations and their users/clients. As charitable organisations and food aid providers are increasingly relied upon by neoliberal states to support people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, it is vital that we question how the provision of continual support—in the face of ongoing austerity and multiple crises—is experienced by those working and living within low-income communities.

From this, the report makes five recommendations, aimed at national government and regional policy makers:

1) A move towards embedding cash-first approaches to supporting low-income households and away from the dominant charitable approach as a solution to issues of poverty. This includes direct payments from the government via Universal Credit or other legacy benefits, and cash grants provided within a wider package of support by local authorities;

2) Expand Free School Meal Provision to all children in England;

3) An end to austerity along with reinvestment in a properly funded, fit-for-purpose social security system that supports people as needed through adequate, accessible and timely payments;

4) Urgent action to increase people’s incomes. This will require a properly implemented, national living wage and an increase in wages to match the rising costs of living;

5) Urgent housing reform, including keeping housing costs as a share of household income in check.