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Cost of living crisis leaves thousands living in the red

Mum-of-three Gemma has been skipping meals so her youngest son can keep going to football training every week. It costs £5. 

Despite her sacrifices, she says the price of food, council tax and bills continuing to rise means she’s continuing to struggle. 

“I have sacrificed myself from eating for my kids,” she said. “I’m really stuck. I don’t want to hold them back from doing what they want to do. 

“But with food and bills… even taking a bus, you really have to watch every little thing. It’s a real struggle.”

Gemma is one of scores of people constantly living in the red across Greater Manchester – having to make impossible decisions as the cost of living crisis deepens. Thousands are spending more on basics than what they have coming in.

Across the region, almost 250,000 are ‘living in the red, according to research by the Citizens Advice Bureau. 

Bolton and Oldham are two of the hardest hit boroughs in the region, according to the research, with around one in 10 people – 33,000 people in Bolton and 22,000 in Oldham – struggling to cover food and bills. 

One Oldham resident estimated they were paying around £500 each month just to survive,  more than she receives in Universal Credit. 

She said: “I’m having to go to foodbanks a lot. I’ve had to sign up for Warm Homes. It’s hard.

“I’ve been looking for a job for three years. But no one wants to hire a 55-year-old. They want the younger ones.”

An Oldham mum said money was tight for her and her two daughters – a five-year-old and a six-month old baby – even with her partner working full-time.

“There’s nothing left at the end of the month,” she added. “It’s not very nice, especially for the kids. I’d really, really like to save for the girls’ futures. But I can’t.” 

MP Debbie Abrahams said the statistics were ‘shocking, but not surprising’, adding: “These figures will just be the tip of the iceberg. Many more Oldhamers will be living in poverty, some in destitution and even more in financial precarity.

“This is the product of 14 years of austerity hitting communities like ours hard, and this has been exacerbated by a brutal cost of living crisis.”

Council leader Arooj Shah agreed, suggesting more needed to be done locally – and nationally – to support those struggling.

“Every day I meet people who are struggling to make ends meet, who are choosing between heating their homes and buying food, who are amassing debt to pay for basic living costs,” she added.

“Poverty impacts every element of the lives of those affected by it and we need a government, both nationally and locally, who put tackling poverty at the heart of everything they do.”

Bolton council says it is working with charity Greater Manchester Poverty Action to create an anti-poverty strategy and make ‘a real difference’ to people’s lives.

The problem of ‘negative budgets’ spreads across Greater Manchester and the UK. Broken down by constituency, these are the worst-hit constituencies across the region, according to Citizens Advice, with the percentage of people ‘living in the red’:

  • Manchester Rusholme – 12 pc (13,490)
  • Oldham West, Chadderton & Royton – 12 pc (13,420) 
  • Bolton South & Walkden – 12 pc (14,478)
  • Bolton North East – 11 pc (12,861) 
  • Gorton & Denton – 11 pc (12,597) 
  • Blackley & Middleton South – 10.8 pc (11,827)
  • Salford – 10.6 pc (12,832) 
  • Manchester Central 10 pc ( 12,450) 
  • Wythenshawe & Sale East – 10 pc (10,835)
  • Rochdale – 10 pc (10,105)
  • Heywood & Middleton North – 9.6 pc (9,616)
  • Ashton-under-Lyne – 8.8. Pc (8,804)
  • Oldham East & Saddleworth – 8.8 pc (9,503)
  • Wigan – 8.4 pc (8,758)
  • Stalybridge & Hyde – 8 pc (7,808
  • Stretford & Urmston – 7.8 pc (7,887)
  • Leigh & Atherton – 7.6 pc (8,265)
  • Worsley and Eccles – 7.3 pc (7,816) 
  • Stockport – 7.2 pc (7,549) 
  • Bury South – 7.2 pc (7,642) 
  • Makerfield – 7 pc (7,169) 
  • Bury North – 6.4 pc (6,582) 
  • Bolton West – 6 pc (5,867) 
  • Manchester Withington – 5 pc (4,488)
  • Hazel Grove – 5 pc (4,647) 
  • Altrincham & Sale West – 4.2 pc (4,188) 
  • Cheadle – 3.5 pc (3,342)


Graham Whitham, CEO at Greater Manchester Poverty Action said: “One trend we’re seeing is people borrowing informally off friends and family to help stay afloat as they have negative budgets. 

“But having to repay this as they are borrowing off people who are struggling themselves. This cyclical process is meaning that people can’t break out of negative budgets.”

Some people have found themselves turning to high street loan companies and taking out unsecured lenders in a desperate attempt to cover their living costs, with the Trades Union Congress warning earlier this year that household debt in the UK is at an all time high. 

Most local authorities offer on-the-ground services to help families deal with financial emergencies. Yet with budgets tightening and growing numbers of people reaching their limit, councils are increasingly stretched and reliant on non-profit organisations. 

Citizens Advice says it is not a local issue – across the country, five million people are living with negative budgets, including 1.5 million children, and another two million are cutting back on spending to ‘unsafe levels’ to stop themselves from falling in the red. 

They are calling for more direct intervention from politicians across the UK. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had increased both national and local funding to support families at risk of poverty. 

A spokesperson added: “Our £108 billion cost of living support package prevented 1.3 million people falling into absolute poverty, and we’re putting money back into people’s pockets by driving down inflation, delivering tax cuts for hardworking families, and boosting the National Living Wage, pensions and benefits.

“We also increased the funding available to local authorities by up to £4.5 billion, including an additional £600 million support package to help them deliver key services.”


Councillor Joanna Midgley, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “We are acutely aware of the hardships faced by many residents living across the city. An extremely turbulent economy, combined with the after effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis have created a perfect storm, pushing people closer towards poverty. 

“As a Council we have focused our resources on providing immediate support and relief, as well as looking at how we can address the structural causes of poverty. The Council spends £3.5m per year on supporting some of the poorest residents in the city – this ranges from providing support for bills, access to food, Council tax relief and free meals. 

“No one should have to live in poverty and if anyone is struggling, I would urge them to contact our Cost-of-Living support line so we can provide them with the help they need.” 

A spokesperson for Bolton Council said of their new anti-poverty strategy: “We are committed to working collaboratively, focusing on practical actions that the council and its partners can take that will make a real difference for our community for years to come.”

The strategy’s aims are prevention and reduction; focusing on long-term responses to prevent and reduce poverty and the actions that the council and its partners can undertake to address the root causes of poverty, aiming to prevent it and reduce its prevalence in Bolton.

Another key theme is mitigation, supporting people struggling in poverty now.

Stockport MP Navendu Mishra said: “I hear from my constituents every day about the immense pressure that the cost-of-living crisis is putting on families in Stockport. It is simply not right that we live in a society where so many people are trapped in poverty, and in which absolute poverty is on the rise. And it is not inevitable.

“To fix this crisis, we need political change. We need a new government that is willing to redesign the way our economy works so that it meets the needs of ordinary people in Stockport and beyond.”

Councillor David Meller, Stockport Labour Group leader, said: “We’ve felt this for some time and it’s what’s driving Stockport Labour Group’s work across Stockport Council. Addressing poverty requires innovative and bold thinking from both councils and central government.

“The lack of funding from central government obviously hasn’t helped councils across the country. The burden of funding councils has fallen on residents through sharp rises in council tax. In turn, this impacts on households who are already struggling.  

“However, councils need to continue looking at how they work when it comes to supporting those who need it. It’s why my group pushed, again to some opposition, for council decisions to be measured against whether they address deprivation.

“This is also why we’ve pushed and secured an independent review into the future of Stockport Homes. If we can look objectively at how council organisations are working, we can see whether improvements can be made that address inequalities and whether we can deliver more to support those who need it.”

Kuiama Thompson, Rochdale Borough Council’s director of public health & communities, said: “Our helping hand cost of living support ensures thousands of people in the borough are provided with discounts on their energy bills, food vouchers, warm space venues, council tax reductions and shopping vouchers.

“ The Household Support Fund is a vital part of the social safety net and our wide-ranging package will continue to ensure our most vulnerable residents are supported, including the delivery of our popular food voucher scheme, benefitting over 13,000 young families.”

A Tameside Council spokesperson said: “Cost-of-living pressures are still impacting residents right across our borough and we are committed to doing everything we can to support them.

“Our Helping Hand campaign provides advice on money management, benefit support, pension credit, energy efficiency and support with bills, health and wellbeing, housing support and support into employment. The campaign was created in Tameside and has now been taken up by the GMCA to use across Greater Manchester at a time when people are being severely impacted by rising costs. 

“We have also worked with Age UK and offered advice at our Wellbeing Corner in Ashton Indoor Market to support older people, have offered support from our Cost Of Living Advisor to families through our Family Hubs, and have Customer Service Navigators based at Tameside One who are available at any time during standard council opening hours to provide support to people struggling with finances and can connect to local organisations that can help.”

Jo Mitchell, assistant director – customer experience and support at Wigan Council, said: “We know many of our residents are facing real pressures due to the rising cost-of-living, and our highly successful Here for You campaign has been bringing together help, advice and financial support for individuals and families who need it.

“From supporting older people to apply for pension credit top ups to helping families access housing benefits and council tax reductions, the proactive approach of our local welfare support and income maximisation teams has put more than £4.5m back in the pockets of residents.” 

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