Households unable to pay for essentials as Spring Budget looms

A quarter of households regularly run out of money for essentials, and people believe the UK Government must to more to help households get through the energy bills crisis, new figures released by a group of leading charities and campaigning organisations today shows.

Nationally, 37% of people end the month with no money left over, while nearly a quarter of people (24%) run out of money for essentials either most months or most days. Only 35% of people finish the month with some money to put aside for the future.

Around one in twenty (6%) of people are trying to survive on incomes so low that they can’t pay for essentials most days – a figure that rises to over one in ten (11%) in the UK’s 100 most deprived constituencies.

The new polling highlights the devastating impact of the cost of living crisis across the country, showing how people in both the country’s most deprived areas and its most affluent ones are struggling to get by.

Even among the 10 most affluent constituencies in the UK, 19% of people say they find themselves unable to pay for the likes of food or bills by the end of most months. That rises to 26% of people in the 10 most deprived constituencies.

The figures have been released to mark the launch of a new initiative in response to the cost of living crisis which some of the UK’s biggest charities and organisations have teamed up to create.

Ahead of the Spring Budget the group has launched an open letter backed by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition as well as charities, businesses, Metro Mayors and over 37,800 thousand members of the public. The letter, addressed to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, asks them to take action to ensure the crisis illustrated by these figures does not become the UK’s ‘new normal’.

Members of the public can sign up online:

Two thirds (67%) of people described the UK Government as “not doing enough” to address the cost of living crisis.

Matthew McGregor, CEO at campaign group 38 Degrees, said:

This polling paints a bleak picture of the crisis unfolding across the country: families running out of money to put food on the table and keep kids warm is rapidly becoming our new normal.

As the Spring statement looms, a united message is coming through loud and clear from the British public – in the most and least deprived corners of our country – Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt: do your jobs. Stop kids going hungry, end the energy bills ticking timebomb and relieve the sickening worry from families fearing the worst.

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save The Children, said:

Whether you’re in a rich or poor area, the majority of people believe the UK government isn’t doing enough to help people in the cost of living crisis. Families are now existing month to month, even day to day in some cases and going without essentials, making us deeply worried about the impact this has on children.

The poll, conducted by Survation, questioned people in both the 100 most deprived and the 100 least deprived constituencies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the majority in both groups agreeing that the UK Government’s cost of living action is insufficient.

Emergency measures needed to protect people pushed into poverty by Covid-19

Ahead of the government publishing emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Citizens Advice is calling for measures to ensure that vulnerable people and low-income families are not pushed into financial hardship as a result of the outbreak.

These include immediate changes to Universal Credit and the extension of the Cold Weather Payment to households that are self-isolating.

Those at particular risk include seven million people in the UK without savings to fall back on;  five million self-employed people; and those in 1.5 million low-income jobs that don’t qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).

The charity warns many will also face higher energy bills and other essential costs as a consequence of having to self-isolate or stay at home to look after dependents.

Without action from the government, Citizens Advice fears the public health response to coronavirus could be undermined by people who feel they just cannot afford to self-isolate.

Citizens Advice has set out temporary emergency measures that could be taken to protect the most vulnerable during the outbreak, including:

  • Sick pay: Legislating to provide Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at 80% of their wage for people earning less than the Lower Earnings Limit. Temporarily increasing SSP and the level of benefits to support people facing sustained drops in income.

  • Universal Credit: Suspending the Minimum Income Floor for all self-employed people. Making advance payments a grant for those making new claims and advised to self-isolate. Making use of repayment pauses for benefit debt and third party deductions.

  • Household bills: Extending the existing Cold Weather Payment to provide support for self-isolating households in receipt of Universal Credit or legacy benefits.

  • Housing: Legislating to suspend section 21 to temporarily stop no-fault evictions for private renters. Amending the grounds under which section 8 can be used to ensure people aren’t being evicted as a consequence of being in arrears due to coronavirus.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

The government has made it clear that it will do everything in its power to support the public health response to this virus, but financial protections are crucial to ensure people can follow guidance to self-isolate.

Millions of families across the country are already balanced on a financial cliff edge. Their biggest worry right now is that the knock-on effects of the coronavirus could send them tumbling over, with missed bills and rent arrears.

No one should fear being pushed into poverty if they fall ill or need to self-isolate. Yet without further emergency measures to protect society’s most vulnerable, this will be the reality for millions of people.

Third of benefit claimants fall behind on bills

New data from Citizens Advice shows 49% of benefit claimants affected by the benefits freeze have struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, household bills and food while 40% have lost sleep due to money worries in the past 12 months.

The report, achieving income security for all, found that 33% have fallen behind on household bills (such as their energy bills) and 38% have gone without essentials like heating or food.

The findings are worse for Universal Credit claimants, with over half (55%) having gone without essentials such as food, and 51% saying they have lost sleep because of their finances.

The charity is calling for increased financial support for people claiming benefits as it finds almost two in five (39%) people who claim have less than £100 at the end of each month, after paying for rent or their mortgage, food, council tax and household bills.

Disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries. Around 44% of disabled people’s households and 45% of households with children went without in the past 12 months.

Citizens Advice is calling on the government to end the freeze on benefit rates and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.

Since April 2016, the level of most benefits like Universal Credit and Tax Credits has been frozen.

This is having serious consequences for people with over a quarter (27%) of people claiming benefits saying financial worries have made them feel lonely/isolated. Some 29% say financial worries have affected their mental health.

Citizens Advice provides free, independent and impartial advice in England and Wales and last year we helped 580,000 people across England and Wales with their benefits. Some one in six households in the UK claim income-related benefits.

Citizens Advice is calling for urgent solutions from the government:

  • End the freeze on benefit rates. Uprate payments by the Consumer Prices Index plus 2% for four years. Recalculate the Local Housing Allowance to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and re-establish the link with rental prices.
  • Reduce the five-week wait by bringing forward the first non-repayable payment to no later than two weeks into a Universal Credit claim.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

The benefits system is designed to help people with their finances in times of need, but too often our frontline staff and volunteers see a different story.

We’ve found people are losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food and housing while receiving Universal Credit. It is totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need.

The government needs to take urgent action in this week’s spending review by reducing the five-week wait for Universal Credit and ending the freeze on benefit rates.

Danielle, a parent of two children who was helped by Citizens Advice, said:

I have been through so much in the past year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and healthwise am doing so much better.

Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.

Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.