Two in five Brits receiving Universal Credit forced into debt this winter as payments failed to cover soaring cost of living, says the Trussell Trust

17 Mar
  • One in six people who receive Universal Credit needed to visit a food bank at least once since the start of December, according to new research

  • Almost 2m people were currently going without food, while others were living in cold conditions as they couldn’t afford to power and heat their homes

  • The charity is calling on UK government to urgently bring benefit levels in line with the rate of inflation as a bare minimum this Spring Statement to help prevent more people being forced into debt and to food banks

The Trussell Trust says new research has revealed the true and devastating consequences of the current cost of living crisis, with hundreds of thousands of families across the country struggling to get by.

A new online YouGov poll of people claiming Universal Credit shows two in five (40%) Brits receiving Universal Credit have been forced into debt this winter just to eat and pay bills.

One in six people surveyed (17%) needed to visit a food bank at least once since the start of December.

One in three (33%) people receiving Universal Credit had more than one day in the last month where they didn’t eat at all or had only one meal, while one in three people (33%) surveyed have not been able to heat their home for more than four days across the last month because they couldn’t afford to.

The charity also worked with Humankind research to interview 48 people who told researchers debt forces them into a downward spiral for their finances, their family and their mental health.

Dee, 60 from Aberdeen, worked in the building sector but was made redundant and now receives Universal Credit She said:

“It’s just so disheartening to think that I’m in debt through no fault of my own. It still won’t be paid off until I’m well into my pension. It’s causing me ongoing stress to feel like I’m never getting to the end of it. It’s overwhelming and really drags me down.”

This is the true cost of the rising price of essentials for people on the lowest incomes – people already facing impossible decisions such as heating or eating, with many having to take on debt just to get by.

People said they were unable to afford to get to work or get children to school, some said they have mould growing in their home because they can’t afford the heating, some were turning off their fridges to save money and several people highlighted an imminent risk of homelessness.

This situation is only set to get worse, says the charity, with inflation set to hit at least 7% this April.

The UK government is due to increase benefit levels by just 3.1% – less than half what’s needed to even begin to make up the shortfall. This increase amounts to just a £2 a week rise, which the charity highlights as ‘dangerously insufficient’ in light of the soaring living costs people are facing.

Worryingly, this comes on top of the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit introduced in November and a five-year freeze on benefits rates which means these payments are worth 11% less than they were a decade ago.

The charity is calling on the UK government to increase benefits by at least 7% this April as a bare minimum, to bring them in line with the true rate of inflation and help prevent pushing more and more people into debt with no way out.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said:

“Right now, the cost of living is forcing hundreds of thousands of families across the country into a downward spiral of debt just to get by. People are telling us they’re going days with minimal food, are having to endure the cold to save money and are being forced to turn to food banks with devastating effects on people’s mental health. Social security should be protecting people from debt and food banks – not pushing them towards it.

“This isn’t right. We know the situation is only set to get worse and we cannot wait any longer.

“That’s why we are calling on the UK Government to bring benefits in line with the forecast rate of inflation as a bare minimum in the upcoming Spring Statement, to prevent thousands more people being forced into debt and through the doors of food banks. Longer term, it is vital we strengthen our social security system so it protects us all from harm and invest in local crisis support so no one needs to use a food bank to get by.”

The Trussell Trust is urging the public to write to your local MP, asking the Chancellor to take action and make social security strong enough for all of us to rely on when we need a lifeline.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

 

  1. The research is based on an online survey by YouGov of 1,506 adults (18+) currently claiming Universal Credit. People were surveyed between 24 January – 15 February 2022.
  2. The figures have been weighted to be representative of people claiming Universal Credit. All weighting data provided by the Trussell Trust from Stat-Xplore.
  3. Figures on the proportion of people falling into debt are the Trussell Trust’s own analysis of data collected by YouGov.
  4. Figures on the percentage of people needing support from a food bank do not include those that solely used a food bank because they couldn’t physically access food.
  5. Estimates of the number of people are the Trussell Trust’s own analysis. They are calculated by taking Department for Work and Pensions data from State-Xplore on the number of people aged 16+ claiming Universal Credit in Great Britain in January 2022 and data from the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland in November 2021 and multiplying by the survey results. These figures do not include children.
  6. Inflation figures take into account multiple forecasts of rates increasing beyond 7%.
  7. The total number of people aged 16+ in Great Britain claiming Universal Credit in January 2022 was 5,627,477. In Northern Ireland in November 2021 there were 132,580.

Other detailed information on question wording and results available from the Trussell Trust on request

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1.2m people fear they will be forced to skip meals if UK government cuts Universal Credit payments this October 

8 Sep

Furthermore, 1.3m people fear being unable to heat their homes this winter if the cut goes ahead, according to new report by the Trussell Trust 

Today, the Trussell Trust publishes a new survey that lays bare the devastating impacts of a £20 a week cut from Universal Credit payments due across the UK next month.  

This is the biggest overnight cut to social security since the Second World War and will be a huge blow for millions of families both in and out of work. 

New research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust* finds that a fifth of people currently claiming Universal Credit  representing 1.2 million people in the UK – say they are ‘very likely’ to need to skip meals when the cut hits. 

Furthermore, 21% of people surveyed  representing 1.3 million people  told researchers they would struggle to heat their homes this winter if their income is slashed in October. 

Worryingly, 11% surveyed representing 670,000 people, say it’s very likely they won’t be able to afford to switch on their oven to cook food after the cut and 900,000 people say they are very likely not to have enough money to travel to work or make essential trips such as medical appointments. 

The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of more than 1,300 food bank centres, is part of a coalition of 100 organisations urgently calling on the UK government to stop the cut as part of the Keep the Lifeline campaign.  

The cut comes amid growing need at food banks throughout the charity’s network during the pandemic, as well as year-on-year increases in numbers of emergency food parcels distributed to people who are living in crisis. 

Alarmingly, 77% surveyed representing 4.7 million people currently claiming Universal Credit, say they are already struggling to keep up with bills and credit commitments. 

The survey also reveals that in the past 30 days, before the cut has even hit, 1.9 million people (32%) on Universal Credit had more than one day where they didn’t eat at all, or had only one meal. 

And 1.4 million (23%) said they had gone without basic toiletries like soap and toothpaste because they couldn’t afford them. 

The charity says this is not right and the vast majority of the UK public agrees.

The research finds only one in five members of the UK public surveyed believes that social security provided enough support to people with physical and / or mental health conditions, which affect most people visiting food banks. 

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie says it doesn’t have to be like this and is urging the public to write to local MPs calling on them to take action and keep the £20-a-week lifeline: trusselltrust.org/keepthelifeline 

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said: 

“Cutting this lifeline will be a devastating blow for millions of households already struggling to make ends meet. These are families already caught in impossible situations who worry every day about switching on the heating and feeding their children. 

“Families who are nearly at breaking point but just about managing to keep their heads above water. 

“This research reveals the shocking consequences of what lies ahead if this lifeline is cut in October. No one should have to suffer the indignity of not being able to afford the essentials in life – like food.

“That’s why we’re saying it would be wrong of the UK government to take away £20 a week from already precarious incomes and push even more people through the doors of food banks. 

“The answer must be to ensure our social security system provides people with enough money to cover the essentials. At the very least we’re saying this October, the UK government must choose to protect people and choose to keep the lifeline.” 

ENDS     

Contact       

Contact the Trussell Trust for more information on 020 3137 3699 or press@trusselltrust.org      

Notes to editors: 

* 

  1. The research is based on an online survey by YouGov of 2,008 adults (18+) currently claiming Universal Credit. People were surveyed between 5 – 19 August 2021.  
  1. The figures have been weighted to be representative of people claiming Universal Credit. All weighting data provided by the Trussell Trust from Stat-Xplore. 
  1. Estimates of the number of people are the Trussell Trust’s own analysis. They are calculated by taking the number of people aged 16+ claiming Universal Credit in Great Britain in July 2021 and in Northern Ireland in February 2021 and multiplying by the survey results. These figures do not include children.  
  1. The total number of people aged 16+ in Great Britain claiming Universal Credit in July 2021 was 5,923,820. In Northern Ireland in February there were 135,710.  
  1. The previous 30 days were counted from when the survey was conducted. 
  1. Data on the UK-wide public is based on an online survey by YouGov of 3,022 adults (16+), undertaken 4-8 August 2021. Figures have been weighted to be representative of all UK adults.  

 

Survey data 

Thinking about your current financial situation and the impact of reducing your weekly income by £20 if the increase does end in October 2021…How likely or unlikely is it that you would have to do each of the following in the three months from October 2021 as a direct result of this? 
  % who say ‘Very likely’  Population estimates 
Needing to skip meals to keep up with other essential costs (e.g. utilities or rent).  20%  1,212,000 
Not being able to afford to heat your home this winter  21%  1,273,000 
Not being able to cook hot food because you couldn’t afford to use the oven or other utilities.  11%  667,000 
Not being able to travel to work or essential appointments (e.g. GP, school run or dentists) because you couldn’t afford to use public transport.  15%  909,000 
Need to use a food bank  15%  909,000 

Other detailed information on question wording and results available from the Trussell Trust on request.  

About the Trussell Trust:    

  • We’re here to end the need for food banks in UK.     
  • We support a UK-wide network of more than 1,300 food bank centres and together we  provide emergency food and support to people locked in poverty, and campaign for change  to end the need for food banks in the UK.     
  • Our most recent figures for the number of emergency food supplies provided by our  network: https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/     
  • The Trussell Trust’s food bank network brings together volunteers, staff and supporters of all  faiths and none to make a difference. Local churches play a vital part in this work, with  around 12,000 churches actively involved in donating food, and providing venues,  volunteers and financial support for food banks.    
  • You can read more about our work at trusselltrust.org    

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