Fifth of people in County Durham in 'absolute poverty' as demand for food and fuel help rises

The pressures faced by residents in County Durham is in line with the rest of the North East. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Around one in five people in County Durham are living in 'absolute poverty' and rely on incentives and reductions on their bills to get by.

Figures from Durham County Council estimate that over 112,000 people in the authority area struggle to live without extra support.  

It comes as the gap between County Durham and England has widened in recent years.

Food and fuel vouchers, council tax reductions, and warm spaces are among a number of measures currently in place to help those who are most in need.

Numbers at a glance

  • 65% rise in residents receiving food and fuel vouchers in year up to October 2022

  • Nearly 20,000 people claiming Universal Credit

  • 17,000 people estimated to have used Warm Hubs in the last 12 months

  • 53,500 benefit from the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme

  • 25,000 people receive 100% reduction through Local Council Tax Scheme

  • 1,200 families supported by the food scheme 'The Bread and Butter' thing.

The pressures faced by residents in County Durham is in line with the rest of the North East.

In Durham in the year up to 31 October 2022, there was a 65% rise in the number of residents in the county getting food and fuel vouchers, with 17,000 food vouchers and 3,100 fuel vouchers were issued.

Furthermore, the number of people in work but claiming Universal Credit more than doubled from 9,500 in March 2020 to 19,900 in September 2023.

An estimated 17,000 people were also thought to have used the county’s network of Warm Spaces last year, with the offer being broadened to include advice services and relaunched as Welcome Spaces.

More than 53,500 are benefiting from the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, with over 25,000 people receiving the maximum 100 percent discount.

Discussing the matter at a Durham County Council cabinet meeting on Wednesday 14 February, Cllr Alan Shield said the council is “absolutely committed to supporting our most vulnerable residents” as part of its Poverty Strategy and Action Plan.

The councillor for Leadgate and Medomsley said the risk of poverty and hardship across the county had increased due to the rising cost of living.

He continued: “We are seeing rising demand for food banks, with more people in work using them, more families struggling to get by and afford essential basics, and rising debt problems.

“We’re doing all we can to provide people with a safety net and a huge and ongoing local effort is going into this, not just from ourselves but from our public and voluntary sector partners too. 

“Together, we are providing food banks, running free ‘fun and food’ activities in school holidays, working to maximise awareness of free childcare, and more."

Cllr Shield added: “We’re providing welfare advice to help people claim the financial support they’re entitled to.

"Last financial year we helped 5,900 new service users claim around £15.5million in income, and in the second and third quarters of this financial year we’ve helped 3,282 new service users claim £7.7million.

“We’ve also introduced financial inclusion support officers in some of our secondary schools to offer families money and debt management advice and help them claim their full benefits entitlements. Any extra income we can find for people can be a massive help to them.”

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