We live in a prosperous and attractive area. Education and wage levels are above average, crime is relatively low; there are good schools and attractive countryside. But living here can be a challenge, especially if you are on a low income.
It is well known that property prices in Uttlesford are high compared with other parts of the country. Affordability in real terms is getting worse as the ratio of house price to earnings has risen steadily for a number of years and is now higher than anywhere else in Essex other than Epping Forest, which is on the London Underground. In January 2019 there were over 1,000 people in the district on the housing waiting list, so there is growing reliance on the private rental sector to meet housing needs; over 10% of households in Uttlesford now rent privately. And therefore live with reduced security of tenure, higher removal costs and fees. Furthermore, housing benefit levels fall below actual market rents – local housing allowance for a 3 bedroom house in the north of Uttlesford is currently £776.52 a month, but the cheapest property on the market in April 2019 cost £900 to rent; a monthly shortfall of £123. Housing costs put great strain on families’ budgets and can easily lead to debt issues.
A number of factors, including poor health, low income, high fuel costs and houses which are old or poorly maintained interact to make it difficult for many people to heat their homes. You may be surprised to learn that 1 in 12 households in Uttlesford are fuel-poor and excess winter deaths here are double the national average. Over the last 6 years, Uttlesford Citizens Advice has worked with Uttlesford District Council with the aim of addressing some of these issues – offering specialist advice to help people reduce their heating bills and stay warm and healthy in the winter.
The rurality of the area means that car ownership levels are high. Nine out of ten families own at least one vehicle, so demand for public transport is low. This, together with the wide dispersal of the population over the district makes it difficult for operators to provide a bus service without reliance on council subsidies. As a result, many of our villages and hamlets have virtually no bus service and where there is one it is infrequent, expensive and time consuming. For example, the return bus fare from Littlebury to Saffron Walden is £6. Compare this with the minimum wage, which ranges from £3.90 for an apprentice to £8.21 an hour for someone aged over 25. The lack of public transport options means that access to services is particularly poor, especially as our nearest job centre is in Braintree and the closest night shelter in Cambridge.
Currently 5% of people in the district are living with a disability or long term condition which limits their day to day activities. With an aging population (over 65’s are projected to represent 22% of the population by 2025) this puts increased pressure on social care services. Uttlesford Citizens Advice often help people who are struggling to navigate the complexities of the system, particularly those who need to find suitable care. A growing number of people are experiencing real hardship securing disability benefits. A specialist team of disability benefit volunteers from Uttlesford Citizens Advice carried out over 250 home visits last year, helping people to complete complex application forms and supporting clients to appeal where it was felt that the decision made had been unfair.
If you are interested our work and would like to support us or get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many different types of volunteer opportunities available, with varying levels of commitment. The next adviser training course is likely to take place in late 2019 / early 2020 – however applications are welcome all year round.