The cost of living crisis and its impact on women

14 March 2022

At the Smallwood Trust we’re seeing how the rise in the cost of living has driven an unprecedented increase in applications to our Grants to Individuals programme, accelerating the gendered poverty crisis that has already increased significantly during the COVID pandemic.

It has been widely reported in the media that inflation has risen by 5.5% in the past year and is predicted to rise to 7% in 2022 and that energy prices could more than double. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already seen rising fuel prices soar and the impact of sanctions on Russia has the potential for more increases in energy and fuel costs.

Additionally, the impact felt by those on low-incomes has been highlighted by the campaigner against poverty Jack Monroe when she detailed how the cost of essential food basics have gone up disproportionately to inflation in the past year, with some items now costing more than 300%.

We know that poverty is clearly gendered and this is largely explained by the unequal position of women in society which is exacerbated by caring status, ethnicity, health, age, sexuality, gender and disability.

Systems such as the labour market, the design of social security and the role of paid and unpaid care all contribute to harsher outcomes for women. The cost of living crisis follows the COVID pandemic that has already had a disproportionate impact on women with the Trust receiving a 200% increase in applications to our Grants to Individuals programme.

We responded to the pandemic by increasing our grant expenditure to support a growing ‘eco-system’ of funding to individuals, service delivery organisations and policy and influencing activities.

However, we are now seeing women requesting support to help navigate a number of rising costs, not only because of the rising energy bills and fuel prices but with rent rising especially with the social housing cap being removed. Funds for shopping essentials are also in demand with studies showing that on average the lowest-income families spend twice as much proportionately on food and housing bills as the wealthiest.

This all has to be factored in with Universal Credit being cut by £20 in 2021 and only set to rise by 3.1%, well below inflation, in addition to Council Tax rising too.

CASE STUDY - Mary’s story
Mary is over 50 and her children have now left home. Due to now being a single woman with no dependent children her benefits have dropped dramatically, in conjunction with the COVID 19 top up also being scrapped, her rent increasing and she is very worried about the cost of living rises in general. Being over 50, Mary feels this is a factor in finding gainful employment as she feels employers are discriminating against her due to her age. Mary stated on the application form that all this is having a detrimental effect on her mental health. She is now in arrears with her rent and Council Tax. The Trust awarded Mary a grant to clear her rent and Council tax arrears. Mary reported that this has given her some ‘breathing space’ and that she has contacted an organisation as seen on the Trust’s website to gain some budgeting advice.

All these factors are causing women to make impossible choices about budgeting. As a result, we are seeing the devastating consequences of families choosing to go hungry just so they can afford a child’s school uniform, women who have suffered domestic violence returning to their perpetrator in order to find some sort of financial stability and applicants have reported being in real fear of facing the rise in costs that are predicted over the next few months.

While Smallwood will continue to respond to these immediate demands we will also place an increasing emphasis on tackling the systems that cause gendered poverty. Our new Strategic Plan for 2022-2024 outlines how we are continuing to invest in our people and infrastructure to support and work alongside communities to develop workable models that improve economic and social outcomes for women.

Paul Carbury, Chief Executive of the Trust said: “The cost of living crisis is very real and very present and so the Smallwood Trust will continue its commitment to finding the solutions to enable women to be financially resilient.”