Low pay is one of the key issues pushing thousands of families to the brink of poverty and destitution in Stoke-on-Trent, a new report has found.
Poorly paid work and cuts to the welfare state mean that many people in the city are struggling to meet their basic needs and pay their bills, it says.
It has led one senior researcher and academic to warn the area is heading towards a “humanitarian crisis”.
The report co-authored by Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent and researchers from Staffordshire University and University of York, aims to capture the impacts of recent economic changes and the cost-of-living crisis.
It is the latest in a series of joint reports published on the poverty crisis. However, this update highlights deeper and more widespread issues in terms of debt and health and welfare problems.
The report states that the key issue is low pay and benefits which are set at an extremely low level, so that large sections of the population are reliant on insufficient incomes to maintain a basic standard of living.
Soaring global energy prices, food, rental and transport costs are also forcing more families into hardship.
Lead researcher, Staffordshire University Professor David Etherington, said: “We are heading towards a humanitarian crisis.
“The cost-of-living for many people in Stoke-on-Trent was already high before 2022. What we are seeing now is more people falling deeper into debt.”
He added: “Things have got worse since our last report. There is a catchphrase either “heat or eat” which sums up the situation as people find they cannot do both.
“So I want to emphasise the absolute desperate situation going on in Stoke-on-Trent.”
Simon Harris, CEO of Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent, added: “Poor energy efficiency, low wages and high levels of benefit reliance make Stoke-on-Trent especially vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis.
“There are thousands of people living in Stoke-on-Trent and beyond who are reaching crisis point.”
The report has made a number of recommendations to government, local authorities and other agencies on how to try and address the crisis.
In response to the findings, Stoke-on-Trent City Council said it was looking to tackle the cost-of-living crisis through schemes such as its Stronger Through Winter campaign, which aims to support residents by uniting services across the city.