Citizens Advice helped 2.4 million people last year, with more than 60 million visiting its online advice pages.
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee recently quoted an advice co-ordinator saying Citizens Advice was “just about the only face-to-face service left – everything else is online, or a phone-line that never answers”.
East Dorset and Purbeck Citizens Advice offers free, confidential and impartial information and advice to those needing it. Fully trained volunteers and staff respond to queries about benefits, debt, housing, employment, energy saving and consumer issues.
Citizens Advice in Purbeck – together with other Citizens Advice offices at county and national level – also campaigns to influence policy makers and service providers in order to address the issues which clients bring to advisers.
For example, in 2022 East Dorset and Purbeck Citizens Advice recommended ways in which the energy efficiency of homes might be improved, and fuel poverty reduced.
There can be no doubt that in Purbeck – and in South Dorset as a whole – there is deprivation and inequality. A recent series of programmes on BBC South Today highlighted how Weymouth and Portland were ‘forgotten towns’, with few opportunities for youngsters, low wages and precarious employment.
In 2018, South Dorset had the lowest social mobility of all 533 English constituencies.
In parts of Swanage, 29 per cent of children under the age of 16 live in relative poverty – 25 per cent in absolute poverty. Nine per cent of Purbeck households are fuel poor.
Housing costs are rising year by year – rents in Purbeck in 2021 increased at the highest rate in the country. With the average yearly wage in Purbeck at £25,000, the multiple for buying a house is 12 to one, compared to eight to one nationally.
The median price for a house in Swanage in 2022 was £336,000 – in Corfe Castle and Langton Matravers, £543,000.
Around one in five properties in Swanage are second homes or holiday lets. No wonder the 2021-22 East Dorset and Purbeck Citizens Advice annual review identified housing as a top issue, with 1,634 cases addressed by advisers. Lack of security of tenure for renters is a very real anxiety.
The top issues locally reported by Citizens Advice in 2021-22 reflect the challenges being faced by hard-pressed families and individuals in Swanage and Purbeck.
There were 3,641 cases involving benefits (excluding Universal Credit), 3,222 cases utilities and communications (broadband, etc), 1,635 cases Universal Credit, 1,613 cases debt and 1,127 consumer goods and services. Some 4,778 clients were helped – face-to-face, over the phone or by email.
We use the term ‘cost of living crisis’ – yet those bland words mask how hard it is for so many to get by. The Financial Times writes of ‘the steepest fall in living standards on record’. Yet we are told that raising the wages of all those who were praised as key workers and heroes during the pandemic is ‘unaffordable’.
Citizens Advice volunteers and staff are at the sharp end of life in Purbeck today. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party