A cost of living and poverty catastrophe in Stoke on Trent: the Government’s role in its making

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By Professor David Etherington

In the last few years I have been working with colleagues in the University and Citizens Advice North Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent (CANSS) on the causes, experiences and actions against poverty in Stoke on Trent. Early 2022 we produced a study[1] on the cost-of-living crisis and we found that austerity through benefit and public services cuts has been a major cause of increasing poverty. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Stoke-on-Trent was the 14th most deprived district in England (out of 317 districts) and possessed one of the highest rates of people on low pay and with low skills. In 2016, the Money Advice Service ranked Stoke-on-Trent as the 12th in terms of numbers of people in excessive debt.[2] We found that food banks in the district have been overwhelmed with people unable to meet basic living costs.[3]

Food banks now commonly used in Stoke

The recent changes (September 2022) to the fiscal policies involving tax cuts will do little to help, and will in fact intensify poverty. Government cost of living support for benefit claimants (around £650 for UC and ESA claimants)[4] will be nowhere near what is required even to ‘make ends meet.’[5] It seems that the Government are hell bent in punishing the poor as Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is promising more benefit cuts.[6] Work is not a route out of poverty as the Government claims as two-thirds (68%) of working-age adults in poverty live in a household where at least one adult is in work.”


Instead, they are implementing a tougher claimant regime through the plans to impose benefit sanctions as part of the ‘Way to Work’ initiative to move people quicker off benefits into work.

The time allowed for jobseekers to move to their preferred job is being reduced. Anyone deemed non-compliant will face sanctions and reduced income[8]. Already there has been a quadrupling in the rate of benefit sanctions in Stoke since before the pandemic.[9]

Furthermore there is no guarantee that benefit increases will be in line with inflation leading increasing housing and health poverty. The health of people in Stoke-on-Trent is generally worse than the England average. According to Public Health England, Stoke-on-Trent is one of the 20% most deprived districts/unitary authorities in England and about 24% (12,660) children live in low-income families. Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average.[10]

Victoria Canning from Bristol University and Steve Toombs (Open University) claim that the Government’s policies are the equivalent of social murder. This is due to the excess deaths caused by poverty. They define social murder as “the outcome of deliberate policies that facilitate social, economic and political oppression, and which lead to untimely and ultimately avoidable and preventable deaths. While corporations and wealthy elites will benefit substantively from the decisions made in the mini-budget, some at the bottom of the increasingly disparate economy in Britain will lose their lives as a result.”[11]

David Etherington is Professor of Local and Regional Economic Development in the School of Justice, Security and Sustainability, Staffordshire University. David has been researching welfare reform, poverty and employment relations, including a comparative study of the UK and Danish welfare models. Some of his research has been published in a book in 2020 Austerity, Welfare and Work: Exploring Politics, Geographies and Inequalities, Bristol, Policy Press



[1] Etherington D Telford L and Jones M and Harris S and Hubbard S (2022) The Pending Poverty Catastrophe in Stoke on Trent: How benefit cuts and the cost of living crisis impacts on the poor, Staffs University/(Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent), (March 2022)

[2] Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire (2019) Financial Inclusion Group North Staffordshire Business Development Plan 2019 – 2025. 

[3] https://eprints.staffs.ac.uk/7270/3/The_Pending_Poverty_Catastrophe_in_Stoke-on-Trent.pdf

4] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cost-of-living-payment#low-income-benefits-and-tax-credits

[5] https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/chancellor-must-strengthen-measures-help-cost-living

[6] https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/30/kwasi-kwarteng-and-liz-truss-eyeing-benefits-cut-to-pay-for-tax-plans-17478448/

[7] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2022) UK Poverty 2022: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK. York: JRF.

[8] https://cpag.org.uk/news-blogs/news-listings/it-wont-work-why-way-work-scheme-undermines-efforts-help-people-get

[9] https://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/cost-of-living/hundreds-stoke-trent-benefit-claimants-7191218

[10] https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/static-reports/health-profiles/2019/E06000021.html?area-name=Stoke-on-Trent

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/02/mini-budget-will-result-in-social-this-winter

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