Hardship in Ceredigion worsened during the pandemic and is likely to get worse in the face of increasing costs and cuts to Universal Credit, councillors heard last week.

Councillors discussed a report looking back at the work undertaken to tackle hardship in the county overseen by the Ceredigion Public Services Board (PSB) poverty sub-group earlier this year at corporate resources overview and scrutiny.

Council leader Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn told the committee that “hardship has worsened during the Covid period and this report is for the mid-Covid period,” highlighting the work being done to collect and analyse data “to enable us to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s working and what isn’t.”

The action plan is a ‘live’ document and the framework is being adapted to ensure that multi-agency issues of concerns can be updated, with Cllr ap Gwynn adding “we know things will not improve for those at the bottom of the scale now the Universal Credit has been cut.”

The number of people on Universal Credit – employed or unemployed – in Ceredigion saw a sharp increase in March/April 2020, where a table in the report indicates that it went from 2,110 to 3,415 increasing to 4,717 in March 2021 and decreasing to 4,654 in June 2021.

Cllr Bryan Davies highlighted the “detrimental” impact of rising fuel costs, a concern shared by Cllr ap Gwynn who said there was “no doubt” people would be impacted.

Cllr Lloyd Edwards raised his concern that increased costs and cuts to Universal Credit could lead to more children being taken into care if families cannot “afford them” and Cllr Lyndon Lloyd highlighted the issue of elderly poverty.

Data provided to the committee showed a 63 per cent increase in free school meal claimants, who had also received payments when schools were closed.

There were 98 people given to access temporary accommodation, 30 community groups received feminine hygiene packs, 953 applications were made to the housing register and 218 new tenancies were supported.

Also highlighted was the distribution of 20,437 food parcels, 1,068 unpaid carers registered with information services and 56 people benefited from 1,053 hours of respite.

600 children, young people and their families received welfare calls from the council’s support and prevention service and 269 were supported by Ceredigion Family Network.