Rail workers are facing increasing hardship because of the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, with trends showing younger people are most affected, needing help with debt support and feeding themselves or their families.

Publishing its Annual Services Report summary for 2022, analysis from the rail industry charity the Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) shows:

  • 1 in 4 of all RBF cases are people who face losing their homes
  • On average, two people came to RBF every month because they couldn’t feed themselves or their families – usually after they had accessed local food banks, meaning that the RBF was their last line of support
  • The average demographic has changed from a former railway worker in their 60s in need of funeral support (2018) to a current railway worker in their 40s in need of debt support (2022)
  • Total financial support increased by 25 per cent on 2021 and demand has more than tripled in the last five years (204 applications in 2018 to 729 applications in 2022)
  • As a direct response to the cost-of-living crisis, the RBF launched the energy support fund, with more than a thousand enquiries received and grants awarded totalling £39,000

The RBF is a leading rail charity which raises vital funds to support people in need across the rail industry in the UK. The RBF offer financial support to current, former and retired railway workers facing crisis such as debt, redundancy, illness and domestic abuse.

Tim Shoveller, RBF Chairman, said:

“Last year saw the highest demand ever for our services, with more than 700 applications received – and we see no let up in that so far in 2023. This week is RBF’s Annual General Meeting which is why we are publishing our summary today to highlight the support we give to those who need us the most.

“We are extremely grateful to the many people who support us by donating, fundraising and volunteering. It means we can continue to support railway people and their dependents through difficult times. We provide preventative support for people who might be heading towards unmanageable debt so we are calling on colleagues across the rail industry to work with us to help their staff to prevent debt, associated mental health and therefore impact on their ability to work.”

Claire Houghton, RBF CEO, said:

“The RBF, like many charities, has seen a real shift in recent years. While debt support has previously been a significant part of our support, it was unprecedented in 2022, particularly for rent and mortgage payments. The debt cases are more complex as the cost-of-living crisis plunges people into unsustainable financial situations.

“With increased inflation we are now seeing the effects of the pandemic on people’s finances. With the latest Joseph Rowntree Poverty Report[1] estimating that 1 in 5 people are now in poverty, the increase in support required for rail people is not surprising and is likely to increase as anticipated in 2023.”

If you or somebody you know needs the support of RBF please contact support@railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

If you want to help or get involved please contact fundraising@railwaybenefitfund.org.uk


Where requested, names have been changed to protect people’s identities.

Case 1: Oluwatobi [www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/news/stories/oluwatobi]

Oluwatobi said:

“Earlier this year, I found myself drowning in debt. Whenever I got paid, my salary would all go towards paying off the debts, meaning I had nothing left to carry me and my family through the month, especially as the cost of living continued to rise. Despite this, the court letters and bailiff threats continued to pile up. I felt hopeless and that I had no chance of ever paying off all my debts.

“After reading about the Railway Benefit Fund, I decided to give them a call. At first, I thought I would not be eligible, or have to pay a monthly subscription before I could get support, but my caseworker assured me that they could help.

“I sent in my application asking for support with my council tax and energy bills, and the charity provided me with a grant to finally pay off these debts. Since receiving this support, I feel so happy and relieved.”

Case 2: Hayley [www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/news/stories/hayley]

Hayley said:

“When my daughter was six weeks old, we lost her father to suicide. As a new first-time mum, my mental health deteriorated, and I soon found myself getting deeper into debt. I lived in a small room with my baby to reduce the cost of living, but I still struggled hugely. I never thought I would be someone that would end up in such a low situation, barely scraping by and worried about giving everything to my daughter that she needed. I was so embarrassed to reach out for help, but I’m glad I did. The Railway Benefit Fund had no judgement at all, they supported me to help cover essential bills and necessities for my daughter and myself whilst I have been having time off work due to grieving and my mental health, they also helped me with furniture for a new house so me and my daughter can finally have a proper home. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the help and support this charity has given us, before this I felt to hopeless and worried about the future, it has been a really tough, stressful year but I now have some sense of positivity that things will get easier and that wouldn’t have happened without RBF’s support.”

Case 3: Jack [www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/news/stories/jack]

Jack is a gateline assistant on the railways and until recently was living in a van. He found himself homeless following the breakdown of his relationship which in turn led to mental health issues and time off work. Registered homeless and faced with long waiting lists for housing he needed to find somewhere to live so he could get back to work and spend time with his children somewhere safe and warm. The RBF were able to help Jack get back on his feet with a deposit for a flat share, a month’s rent and some money for food.

Jack said: “I was in a really bad way but thanks to the RBF I now have a room and a safe place to see my children, I have four kids so it’s cramped but we manage. It has been a really tough few months but I’m glad to say that things are starting to look better for me.”

Case 4: Jenny [www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/news/stories/jenny]

Jenny was going through an incredibly difficult time when she reached out to RBF. Not only was she in long term domestic abusive relationship, but she also found herself spiralling into debt, using loan sharks to keep on top of her payments. Eventually Jenny was able to move away from her abusive partner, but she then found herself behind on rent, council tax, and unable to afford her loan repayments. At breaking point, Jenny decided to contact the RBF. The RBF was able to help Jenny with a financial grant so that she could get back on her feet.

Jenny said: “The RBF helped me in my time of crisis. I had just moved 90 miles away to start a new job, I had a relationship breakdown due to domestic violence and that person left me in a lot of debt, I was in arrears with my rent and my life was spiralling downhill. I reached out to RBF reluctantly, I was so relieved to receive support at such a crucial time, I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without them.”

[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation Poverty Report 2023: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2023