Thousands of people in County Durham are living in absolute poverty and are having to rely on incentives and reductions to their bills to get by. 

New figures as part of the county council’s Poverty Issues Annual Report estimate that more than 112,000 people - around one in five - are struggling to fund their livelihoods without extra support.  

The concerning data comes as the gap between County Durham and England has widened in recent years.

Food and fuel vouchers, council tax reductions, and the offer of warm and welcome spaces are among a raft of measures currently in place to help those who are struggling the most.

The 12 months up to October 31, 2022 saw 17,000 food vouchers and 3,100 fuel vouchers issued to County Durham residents, a 65 per cent rise on the previous year in both cases. The number of people in work who are claiming Universal Credit has more than doubled from 9,500 in March 2020 to 19,900 in September 2023.

The popular and successful ‘Bread and Butter Thing' food hub network has been expanded to 15 hubs and is now supporting around 1,200 families each week with low cost food and advice services.

An estimated 17,000 people used the county's network of Warm Spaces last year, with the offer being broadened to include advice services and relaunched as Welcome Spaces. And just over 53,500 are benefiting from the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme, with more than 25,000 people receiving the maximum 100 percent discount.

Though in line with the rest of the North East, the impact of the pressures on County Durham residents was discussed at Durham County Council’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday (February 14).

Cllr Alan Shield, cabinet member for equality and inclusion, said the council is “absolutely committed to supporting our most vulnerable residents” as part of its Poverty Strategy and Action Plan.

The Leadgate and Medomsley councillor said the cost of living crisis has seen the risk of poverty and hardship increase across the county.

“We are seeing rising demand for food banks - with more people in work using them - more families struggling to get by and afford essential basics, and rising debt problems,” he added. 

"We're doing all we can to provide people with a safety net and a huge and ongoing local effort is going into this, not just from ourselves but from our public and voluntary sector partners too. 

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“Together, we are providing food banks, running free 'fun and food' activities in school holidays, working to maximise awareness of free childcare, and more.

"We're providing welfare advice to help people claim the financial support they're entitled to. Last financial year we helped 5,900 new service users claim around £15.5million in income, and in the second and third quarters of this financial year we've helped 3,282 new service users claim £7.7million.

"We've also introduced financial inclusion support officers in some of our secondary schools to offer families money and debt management advice and help them claim their full benefits entitlements. Any extra income we can find for people can be a massive help to them."