'I can't feed myself some days': Homelessness support worker 'barely surviving' rising costs

  • "I'm supposed to be helping others and now I'm the one that needs help"

A homelessness and housing support worker has said she is "barely surviving" and cannot afford to eat some days because of rising energy, fuel and food costs outpacing her wages.

Emma, not her real name, works between 40 and 50 hours a week but told ITV News that after paying her monthly bills she is left with just £135.

This money has to cover the cost of food for her and her child as well as fuel to enable her to do her job. She said her wages are currently "not enough to live on".

It comes as the results of a survey revealed exclusively to ITV show nearly half of those working in the homelessness and housing support sector in Wales are struggling to pay bills and some are turning to foodbanks.

Respondents said they are looking for second jobs and one even cited a colleague taking on sex work, just to get by amid the cost of living crisis.

Recent figures show food inflation has hit its highest rate on record, with shoppers now paying 10.6% more than they were a year ago. Credit: PA Images

Emma has been working as a homelessness and housing support worker with young people for the past two years but is struggling to pay for the basics.

"I'm barely surviving," she said.

"I still can't pay my bills, I can't feed myself some days. I can't put fuel in my car to go and do the job that's supposed to be helping other people.

"There are circumstances sometimes that I'll go to a petrol station where I know they'll only debit a pound and I will go into an unauthorsied overdraft once that money has cleared just so I can get to work because that's how bad it is."

Despite working full-time, Emma is taking on extra shifts and considering whether she should leave the job she loves for a career with better pay.

She said: "In the past I would do extra shifts to maybe pay for a holiday or pay for Christmas, now it's just to get food on the table."

Emma and her colleagues recently received a pay rise, which she said they are thankful for but rising costs mean it is simply not enough.

"We're very grateful that we've had a pay rise don't get me wrong, but the cost of living is a lot higher than what the pay rise was," she explained.

"So in fact we're actually in a deficit regardless of the pay rise because it's not enough to live on.

"I have reached out to the foodbank. It's not something I've been very proud of and it's the same with my colleagues when they've had to do it as well - they feel very ashamed. It's not supposed to be for us, it's not supposed to be for working people.

"It's just so hard to then go home and sit there and evaluate your life and think how did I get here when I'm supposed to be helping others and now I'm the one that needs help."

The rise in fuel prices has particularly impacted those like homelessness support workers, who need to travel to appointments for work. Credit: PA Images

Many others working in the homelessness and housing support sector are also feeling the dire impact of the cost of living crisis, according to research seen by ITV Wales.

A report publish by Cymorth Cymru looked at survey results from more than 650 workers in Wales. Nearly half of respondents said they are struggling to pay bills while some are also finding it difficult to make rent payments and are turning to foodbanks.

Workers stated in the survey that they are "just surviving month to month and not really living" while others said they are looking for second jobs.

Another respondent said they have a staff member who has "turned to sex work to make ends meet".

Key findings from the survey:

  • 44% are struggling to pay bills

  • 11% are struggling to pay rent

  • 7% have started using foodbanks

The price of fuel is putting immense pressure on workers who rely on their car for work, travelling to see multiple clients each day across a range of locations.

89% of survey respondents said increased fuel costs related to work put a strain on their finances. They also highlighted how this was affecting service delivery, with many unable to afford to visit the people they support as often as they would like.

Energy bills are also a worry, with 95% of survey respondents saying they are concerned ‘a great deal’ or ‘a lot’ about the projected increase in energy costs this October. The majority said they are already turning off lighting or electrical appliances more often and keeping their heating off.

Cymorth Cymru Director and co-author of the report, Katie Dalton, said: “It was heart-breaking to hear about the impact of this cost-of-living crisis on frontline homelessness and housing support workers across Wales. They have spent years helping people out of homelessness but now face similar questions about whether they can afford to heat or eat - and some of them face the very real risk of being pushed closer to homelessness themselves.

“Our research shows the immense pressure they have been under during the last year, as well as their fear and anxiety about what lies ahead."

Cymorth Cymru is calling on both the UK and Welsh governments to act and provide further support for critical workers, or risk pushing more people into poverty and losing staff from "an already understaffed" workforce.

Ms Dalton said: "The homelessness and housing support sector is really struggling with recruitment and retention at the moment and the cost of living crisis and low wages certainly doesn't help.

"It’s time for both governments to act; for the Welsh Government to fund an increase in wages for this critical workforce and for the UK Government to take further action to reduce energy prices, improve financial support and increase mileage rates so that support workers are not left out of pocket for simply doing their jobs.”

  • Cymorth Cymru Director Katie Dalton said increased fuel costs are especially affecting those working in the homelessness and housing support sector

Upon becoming Prime Minister, Liz Truss announced a cap of £2,500 on yearly energy bills. This plan - paid for by tens of billions of pounds of borrowing - will save the typical household around £1,000.

The Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng also recently announced various tax cuts in his so-called 'mini-budget', like a reduction of 1p to basic rate income tax brought forward to next year and a cut to National Insurance in November 2022.

Earlier this year the Welsh Government also unveiled a package of support designed to help with the rising cost of living. This included a £150 payment to households living in properties in council tax bands A-D.

Both the UK and Welsh governments have been approached for comment in response to Cymorth Cymru's report and call for more action.