A quarter of households in Harlow have less than £30 per month disposable income, Essex County Council data has concluded.

A round table discussion partly prompted as a response to concerns from GPs in West Essex heard of an increase in patients presenting with health issues relating to money worries.

Local Citizens Advice Services are also reporting a surge of demand relating to debt and families trying to manage the costs of living increases, the discussion held on March 9 also reported.

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New families being seen by the Citizens Advice service post-Covid are referred to as the ‘working poor’ with low wages and are reporting experiencing money worries for the first time.

It is estimated that 40 to 53,000 new households across Essex have experienced a drop in income that will need further support.

In Harlow there is an increase in Universal Credit claimants. Harlow District Council reported they are seeing an increase in residents defaulting on council tax payments and are projecting decreased revenue from this and from rent payments.

A briefing note following the summit said: “Fuel and energy poverty is no longer a winter issue but an all-year round concern – 24 per cent of households in Harlow have less than £30 per month disposable income and 37 per cent have between £31 and £125 per month disposable income. Eighty one per cent have less than £250 per month disposable income.

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It adds that while households are better in Epping Forest and Uttlesford, all three Citizens Advice services in west Essex “are experiencing a huge demand for services and are seeing clients with an increase in mental health and anxiety and worries about money and debt”.

It adds: “There were concerns that continued stress on the population caused by the cost of living rising may increase alcohol consumption and obesity as people use unhealthy behaviours to manage this situation.

“Another trend was related to food bank usage, which is increasing but it was observed public donations are declining as all sections of society are managing the financial squeeze with less donations being received to the local food bank network.

“From all partners it was felt by adopting an agile approach, going to where the need and people are, as well as delivery partners working together this can meet some need.

“But the question of rising demand and less resource was flagged time and again.”

Nationally an estimated 1.5 million households across the UK will struggle to pay food and energy bills over the next year, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) predicted.

It argues the Chancellor should provide emergency support to cushion this income shock with a Universal Credit uplift of £25 per week between May and October 2022 at a cost of around £1.35bn, as well as an additional £2.85bn that should be given to the 11.3m lower-income households, amounting to a one-off cash payment worth £250 per household for 2022-23.

But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has dismissed the idea of an emergency budget – arguing any talk of which was the media “chasing their own tails”.

A statement as part of papers to be discussed at Essex County Council’s Essex Health and Wellbeing Board on May 18 said: “Whilst the crisis is pre-occupying discussions across the Essex system and some responses being developed in different places within different organisations and various partnerships, there isn’t one holistic concerted effort/response to addressing the cost of living crisis.

“Levelling-up lies at the heart of Essex County Council’s plans and work starting to take shape with local councils, health, and voluntary and community sector s to address the long-standing poverty issues in some of our most deprived wards.

“Whilst this is a long-term ambition some of the tangible benefits should start to be felt by residents later this year.

“Central Government initiatives such as Council Tax Rebate Scheme and the Household Support Fund along with Essex County Council’s Essential Living Fund has seen thousands of vulnerable and struggling residents benefit from cash payments for food, fuel and essential living costs.

“Whilst these schemes have gone a long way to supporting residents there is a danger that unsustainable dependency is created, and the longer-term impacts of the challenges being faced are not being addressed.”