Policy, campaigns & research

Fighting fuel poverty and food insecurity – Armed Forces charities and the cost-of-living-crisis

Rhiannon Doherty, Research Co-ordinator at DSC, explores some of the findings from her new report on the Armed Forces Sector.

The heightened cost of living in the UK has had a huge impact on charities and the beneficiaries that they serve. To put the scale of the problem into context, The Trussell Trust delivered almost three-million food parcels to people throughout its network in 2023. During that same year, Citizens Advice delivered crisis support to around 222,000 people to help them pay for food, basic bills, or other essentials. These are just two charities of many facing increased demand due to rising levels of poverty and inequality throughout the UK.

Just as in the general public, many members of the UK’s Armed Forces community, have been negatively affected by the rising cost of living. This is concerning because financial stability has been identified as an extremely important pillar for successful transition into civilian life when people leave the Armed Forces. In fact, Service leavers rated finances as the second most challenging aspect of transition (Heaver et al, 2018).

Research conducted before the cost-of-living crisis, showed that Service leavers and their families were often surprised by the financial realities of civilian life and that unanticipated increases in the cost of living meant that some families ended up worse off after transition (Heaver et al, 2018). These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the rising cost-of-living seen since 2022.

DSC has been investigating the impact of the rising cost of living on Armed Forces charities, since the crisis first unfolded. Back in May 2022, we surveyed several Armed Forces charities which are members of Cobseo (the Confederation of Service Charities) and at that time, many told us that cost-of-living crisis was ‘their biggest concern for the next six months’.

While Armed Forces charities that participated in subsequent waves of our survey offered insights into some of the challenges they faced as the cost-of-living crisis deepened:

“We’ve seen an increase in families seeking support [as they’re] just not able to make ends meet. This has resulted in a sharp rise in grants awarded, including regular charitable payments paid monthly to families.”

Medium-sized Armed Forces charity, June 2023

“We’re seeing increased running costs among the charities and charitable organisations we support and reports of veterans needing more help from food banks and the like.”

Medium-sized Armed Forces charity, June 2023

So how did charities respond? Well, DSC’s recent Sector Insight report found that several major armed forces charities, had introduced new grants programmes to help people with the rising cost of living (Howarth and Doherty, 2023, p. 41). One of these charities is The Royal British Legion (RBL). As part of a case study in DSC’s Sector Insight report, DSC researchers interviewed a representative from the charity to find out more about the scheme.

RBL told DSC that they had “seen a large increase in demand, as people who could previously get by [were] struggling in response to the cost-of-living crisis.” When asked about what groups of beneficiaries were most adversely affected, the charity said “the cost of living has affected a wide variety of our beneficiaries. We have seen greater need – compared to our normal programmes – from beneficiaries that are employed, including those actively serving.”

To help beneficiaries struggling with soaring essential costs, RBL launched an energy grants scheme, enabling beneficiaries to apply for up to £200 a month for six months towards energy costs. The charity also launched an easy-to-access, self-referral, cost-of-living grants application process to help increase their reach.

The charity told DSC that demand had been “exceptionally high” during the first three-months of the grants programme – during which time they received 4,500 applications – and continued to remain high throughout the winter of 2022–23.

DSC’s Sector Insight report highlighted the impressive reactivity and adaptability of the Armed Forces charities sector.  It showed that charities have been quick to introduce new grants and services in response to new complex needs seen in the Armed Forces community, including increased fuel poverty and food insecurity.

Looking to the future, there are positive signs that the cost of living is gradually subsiding – inflation is expected to continue to fall throughout 2024, and food and energy prices are likely to become more stable.

However, for many individuals and families the cost of living the crisis is far from over – it leaves behind a legacy of rising inequality and poverty, meaning that charities are never more needed. The Armed Forces community and the charities that support them are no exception.

Further research is needed, to investigate how the longer-term impact of the cost-of-living crisis will affect the volume and nature of future grants applications to Armed Forces charities, and to assess how well equipped the sector is to respond to a prolonged period of high demand.

To learn more about how Armed Forces charities and their beneficiaries have been affected by the rising cost of living, download DSC’s Sector Insight report.

To find out more about how DSC’s friendly research team can help you to help others, visit our website or get in touch with research@dsc.org.uk to schedule a free consultation.