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The cost of living crisis: is the picture really improving?

man in wheelchair attending food bank

The cost of living crisis: is the picture really improving?

In this insightful blog, Helen Gray, Benefact Trust Director, uncovers the reality of the cost of living crisis for people on the lowest incomes. She also shines a spotlight on the unwavering dedication of charities, who, despite the odds, continue to provide crucial support.
In the ever-changing economic narratives, recent data on the UK's cost of living offers a glimpse of a brighter future. Headlines tease lowering inflation rates and more disposable income for the average family, but if you dig just beneath the surface you’ll discover the stark reality – the struggles are intensifying for those on the lowest incomes and for the charities working tirelessly to support them.

Surface improvements
Between 2022 and 2023, the UK experienced the most significant year-on-year decline in living standards since the Office for National Statistics (ONS) records began in the 1950s¹. This sobering statistic serves as a reminder of the extreme hardships the country has faced in recent years.
However, economic indicators are now painting a steadily improving picture. While progress may be slow, it appears to be moving in the right direction. According to the Bank of England, inflation has decelerated from its peak of 11% in 2022 to 3.4% in 2024². Data also suggests that household incomes should rebound to their pre-pandemic peak by the end of 2026³. For many people this offers glimmers of hope, but for the most vulnerable people on the lowest incomes, the financial squeeze is only getting tighter.
Challenging times for vulnerable people
1.4 million adults across the UK are facing fuel and food insecurity⁴ and 3 in 10 children are estimated to be living in poverty⁵. These staggering numbers reflect a dire reality for families on the lowest incomes. Many are resorting to smaller food portions or skipping meals entirely, just to make ends meet. 
Benefit cuts, insecure housing, low salaries and bleak unemployment forecasts combined with nearly £15 billion in unsecured debt weighs heavily on the poorest communities⁶. 
Among those who are struggling, people living with long-term illness and disabilities are often the most at risk of being unable to afford the essentials. Data suggests that around one-third of the 9.3 million non-working adults cite long-term illness as their principal reason for not working⁷. This means that many people with long-term sickness are left no choice but to seek help with food and the essentials.
In Benefact Trust’s latest ‘Beyond Funding’ podcast, the team was joined by Sophie Carre, Director of Public Engagement for the Trussell Trust, a charity supporting a network of more than 1,400 food banks across the UK. Sophie talked about how tough the situation is for disabled people. She revealed that a shocking 75% of people who visit Trussell Trust food banks report that they, or at least one member of their household, is disabled.  
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity and community of food banks providing practical support to people who can’t afford the essentials, and campaigning for a future where none of us need to use emergency food to get by. 
The groups and volunteers who run food banks are essential to the fabric of our communities, and while people can’t afford to put food on the table, food banks will be there, determined to offer support. They provide more than just food, they offer compassion, advice and vital practical support. But it shouldn’t be that anyone needs a food bank in the first place. The Trussell Trust has seen poverty getting broader and deeper for a long time, with its figures showing a 120% increase in food bank need over the last five years⁸. That’s why the charity campaigns and advocates for long term solutions to build a more just society where everyone has enough money for the essentials.  
Highs and lows for charities
Charities like the Trussell Trust emerge as beacons of hope amid the poverty storm, supported by the generosity of donors. In the midst of the cost of living crisis, people are giving more to charity with a reported £13.9 billion donated in 2023, up £1.2bn year-on-year⁹. This increase is driven by donors giving more on average, rather than more people giving to charity, but it demonstrates how vital donors consider charities to be during these challenging times.
The dedication and drive that charities have in terms of bridging gaps in support for vulnerable people, is unmatched. However, their efforts are hindered by the widening gap between need and available resources. Take the Trussell Trust for instance, this frontline organisation is seeing its food banks stretched to the limits. 
Between April 2022 and March 2023, the Trussell Trust food banks provided almost three million emergency food parcels – the highest number ever recorded. Despite their tireless efforts, food banks are struggling to keep up with escalating need. 
Sophie Carre, Director of Public Engagement at the Trussell Trust, articulates the daunting challenges faced by food banks in Benefact Trust’s podcast: “Food banks and their volunteers are absolutely incredible. But I don’t think it’s ever been this relentless before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many at breaking point.
“Food banks are doing everything that they can, they are so stubbornly determined to support everyone in their communities but it’s really tough. We saw over the winter that the majority of food banks were having to make adaptations to their services, simply to meet the level of need and a big part of that was needing to buy food. Food banks have always been structured with local food supply coming from generous public donations. It’s not that the generosity of the public has gone down in any way, it’s just not kept up with the level of need.”
The Trussell Trust’s work reflects the issues faced by many charities at this time. As the need increases, they require more support and unfortunately it begs the question – where is this support coming from?
Many charities rely on funding from their local government, who themselves are at-risk. Charities are incredibly concerned about the future of this funding, with 28% of organisations expecting a reduction in council funding over the coming year¹⁰. 
Pressure on local government
Local governments find themselves in a precarious position, attempting to navigate rising demands with shrinking budgets. With projected cuts on the horizon, essential services are on the brink of collapse. According to the IFS, the Autumn Statement pencilled in cuts of 1.8% between 2024-25 and 2028-29 in day-to-day spending on services outside of the protected areas such as the NHS, schools, defence and overseas aid¹¹.
These cuts could have a detrimental effect on the charities and services they support.
Grant Funders stepping in to provide help
In the face of these rising pressures, grant funders have an opportunity to help bridge that gap in support. Funders can provide financial aid but also offer guidance and resources to help charities navigate these challenging times. By prioritising flexible funding programmes and encouraging collaboration, funders can empower charities to adapt and innovate, ultimately ensuring that vital services continue to reach those most in need. Now, more than ever, grant funders have the chance to make a lasting impact on the resilience and sustainability of the nonprofit sector.
In Benefact Trust’s podcast, Sophie talks about how vital grant funding is to charities like the Trussell Trust: “We simply couldn’t provide the support that we do to our network without partners like Benefact Trust. Those grants enable food banks to adapt in a way that will be able to keep them going, be able to cover their increased operational costs, and do what they need to do to keep their doors open.”
The future outlook
Although it may seem bleak, there is positive change on the horizon. By rallying together and advocating for meaningful change, we can all pave the way for a fairer future and ensure that the next few years offer more than a few glimmers of hope. 
The Trussell Trust is one of the organisations doing just this; raising awareness and lobbying for change, so that people aren’t forced into positions where they need to turn to charity to put food on the table. They want to create a future where everyone has access to long-term, sustainable support rather than quick fixes in times of crisis.
It's time to build a society where no one is left behind. Together, we can overcome the challenges ahead and create a future where every individual can flourish.

Photograph of Helen Gray

Helen Gray

Benefact Trust Director

Data also suggests that household incomes should rebound to their pre-pandemic peak by the end of 2026. For many people this offers glimmers of hope, but for the most vulnerable people on the lowest incomes, the financial squeeze is only getting tighter.
Helen Gray

Children wearing life jackets sitting on a boat

Benefact Group's work

As a Trust, our ability to support and fund so many worthwhile causes, is made possible by the hard work of the award-winning specialist financial businesses that make up Benefact Group – which gives all its available profits to the Trust, sustaining our giving. As a part of the Benefact Group each business, whether it be in specialist insurance, investment management, broking or advisory shares the Trust’s ethos of giving back.