It took a couple of months for it to begin to bite but over the weekend one of the effects of our country’s economic crises hit me like a punch in the solar plexus when we received an email about an enforced increase in our monthly direct debit from our energy supplier.

Our household has been with Bulb for many years, a company which only survived last year because it had too many customers to be allowed to fail. Just before Christmas it was acquired by Octopus energy. One can see why – the database of these customers is worth a mint in the long-term.

We were fortunate in some ways that we’d accidentally entered the last few months with a healthy surplus on our balance with Bulb, more than £500. Together with the roughly £70 per month from the government, that protected us from immediate pain. Now however, Bulb want to double the amount we pay per month, even though we have spent the winter keeping heating to a minimum.

I am not claiming poverty, but neither are we wealthy by any means. This will mean tightening belts in the household budget. Our predicament is lessened as we no longer have the day-to-day costs of four children at home. However, it belatedly brought home to me how other households have been in agony all winter. It’s self-evident that while the government seems to be planning to turn off energy support payments from April, for millions of people this is just not viable until costs come down.

Unfortunately, as a council leader, I – and indeed all councillors – know and see that amongst the first casualties when the plague of poverty strikes are children. For that reason, when I was approached by The Children’s Society in recent days to sign a petition, and after sense-checking with our officers that its sentiment was in accord with our policies, I agreed.

They wrote to me (and other leaders of course) saying that “As Leader of East Devon District Council you will know first-hand the importance of local welfare – particularly the Household Support Fund. For some families, a broken washing machine or an unforeseen bill can be a disaster. The Household Support Fund provides financial support to people with nowhere else to turn.”

This is provenly the case across our district sadly. The Children’s Society argue that with so many people living on a knife’s edge, they will not have savings to fall back on, and that “financial crisis can produce situations that quickly spiral into catastrophic, long-term consequences. It is not uncommon for people to lose their home or become unwell due to stress.”

They also argue the positive case for the Household Support Fund saying that in a study cited by the National Audit Office, an investment of £0.5million into Local Welfare Assistance generated £9.7million in savings to other public services. The petition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer calls on him to invest in and strengthen the Household Support Fund by a three-year commitment of funding starting in 2024 to local authorities of at least £1 billion per year, with the fund to be open locally to anyone in a financial crisis. 

It also asks for an additional 5% funding provided to each local authority to administer their schemes and ensure there is effective local co-ordination to bring together partners and preventive services, and provide capacity to monitor outcomes and impact.  

As a council we feel proud of the work we already do through our Poverty Strategy, but I am glad the petition recognises that we are running on vapour fumes now. School teachers across East Devon already see youngsters whose families are choosing between eating and heating, often unable to pay for clothes. Let’s hope the Children’s Society plea is heard.