Changes and challenges – four years of advice trends
- Author: Hugh Stickland, Chief Economist
Ahead of the Queen’s Speech and with a new Government in place, we have put together an analysis covering four years of change on the issues that people need help, support and advice with through Citizens Advice. Not only is it a chance to look back on what has happened, but it provides a useful platform to look ahead and consider the challenges that the new Government faces.
There has been a huge amount of change over the last four years, from recession into recovery. We’ve seen two million more jobs, but increases in flexible, temporary and zero hour contracts. New consumer products and markets have emerged as have new credit products. Welfare reforms have been introduced and the long awaited rollout of Universal Credit is slowly becoming reality. Our data helps to show how these have impacted on people, where they work and where more needs to be done.
One of the major changes across the last four years has been the changing nature of debt. Fewer people are coming to Citizens Advice because they have issues with consumer credit, such as credit cards and overdrafts. However more and more people are struggling with everyday household bills. We’ve seen increases in issues relating to energy, water, rent and council tax, which is now the single biggest debt issue we deal with. These debts have serious consequences leading more people to struggle with bailiffs, court orders, being cut off and being fined. Credit constraints and several years of wages falling behind inflation mean more households are failing to make ends meet, and falling behind on essential bills.
While it is good news that we deal with fewer issues around redundancy and jobseeker’s allowance, we are dealing with more employment issues where terms and conditions aren’t clear, symptomatic of more people working in second choice jobs. We’ve also seen a significant rise in the number of self-employed people seeking advice, who are more likely to be struggling with debts, tax issues and consumer problems. The labour market has bounced back with more jobs, but often these new jobs are putting tremendous strain on people’s ability to cope.
We have seen a whole raft of complex and overlapping welfare reforms. Benefit and tax credit issues have risen to be the number one area of advice queries we see – overtaking debt. Our data shows a huge spike in issues relating to employment support allowance as people have moved over from incapacity benefit, and now we are seeing a similar rise in issues relating to personal independence payment. With the arrival of Universal Credit, we are already seeing issues that could be ironed out to help those affected make a steady, safe and ultimately successful transition onto the new system. Government must ensure that people have the support they need and we stand ready to help.
Aside from the Office for National Statistics, there is no other organisation with such a comprehensive view of the issues and challenges that the nation faces, and how these issues combine and impact on individuals, families and communities. We also have a unique angle on the challenges that policy makers and regulators need to consider and deal with if we are to move forward, ensuring that all in society are reaping the rewards from the economic recovery. We look forward to continuing to play an active role, working to make society fairer and ensuring our clients’ voices are heard.