Charity Director disappointed by ‘underwhelming’ budget - ‘the call for fairness has gone unanswered’

Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, director of the Work Rights Centre, a charity dedicated to ending in-work poverty, says the Chancellor’s plans don’t go far enough to help struggling families and Universal Credit claimants...

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget, announced today, has left charities unconvinced of the government’s commitment to helping vulnerable people. While measures to invest in skills and raise the minimum wage were welcomed, the cost of living crisis cast a considerable shadow, particularly for workers who are un- or underemployed.

Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, director of employment rights charity the Work Rights Centre, reacted positively to the £550m investment in adult skills ‘boot camps’ in England, which will help to increase the employability of people who have no qualifications beyond GCSE level.

“Our advisers support people in precarious work, helping them to understand and assert their employment rights” she explains. “Simultaneously, we aim to help them improve their professional mobility so they can leave this kind of low-paid, insecure employment behind. With that in mind, we’re obviously pleased to see some investment in training and education.”

But while the government’s investment in upskilling is welcome, the budget does not go far enough to mitigate the cost of living crisis, particularly for the un and underemployed. “Before we celebrate the rise in National Living Wage to £9.50/hour, we must remember that most of this will be offset by the rise in prices and energy costs”, Dr. Vicol commented.

“For a full time worker over the age of 23, the new National Living Wage rates introduced from April will amount to £1,074 extra per year before tax. Yet most households are likely to spend hundreds more on energy and everyday living costs this winter. We must remember that transport and housing take up a whole third of the income of the poorest families, and the energy price cap that is currently protecting consumers from fluctuating prices is likely to rise substantially at the beginning of next year, from £1,207 to £1,600. Put in perspective, the rise in National Living Wage seems modest at best.

Likewise, Dr Vicol highlighted that the rise in National Living Wage would do little to help those claiming Universal Credit, who are un or underemployed. “Since the government cut the temporary £20 uplift to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic, the UK has returned to one of the most closed-fisted welfare systems in the developed world,” she commented.

Even more worryingly, thousands of EEA migrants and their family members who are awaiting status under the EU Settlement Scheme risk being rejected from Universal Credit altogether. While as many as 400,000 EUSS applications are still being processed by the Home Office, DWP caseworkers told the Work Rights Centre that, without status confirmed, EEA migrants and their family will be ineligible to apply for Universal Credit, and existing claimants who fail to prove status will have their Universal Credit suspended.

Dr Vicol, like many representatives of anti-poverty organisations, has been left underwhelmed by the Chancellor’s budget pledges. “We’re heading into winter with increased energy bills, increased inflation, higher food prices and a hike in National Insurance Contributions. I realise the government has ring-fenced some money to help local authorities support people in poverty, but it’s not enough. The government must acknowledge that welfare is not the antithesis of employment. It is a necessary safety net to keep people from financial crises, and in its current state it is not fit for purpose.”

Ahead of the budget, a group of 30 UK millionaires wrote to the Chancellor asking him to tax them more rather than letting the burden fall on the less affluent, who would be hardest hit by the increase to NI contributions. “People seem to recognise the strain others are under and are trying to alleviate that,” comments Vicol. “Society is calling for fairness, but that call seems to have gone unanswered.”

Notes to Editors

The Work Rights Centre is a charity that fights for employment justice. Their mission is to help UK and EU nationals exit precarious work and equip them with the tools to access fair and lawful employment.

For further comment from the Work Rights Centre, contact or call 0300 400 0100.

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