Forty percent of people claiming Universal Credit skipping meals to survive, new research from the Trussell Trust reveals

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  • One in five (21%) people were unable to cook hot food this summer as they couldn’t afford to use the cooker, while almost a quarter (23%) have been unable to travel to work or essential appointments because they couldn’t afford the cost of public transport or fuel, the charity says
  • The research finds almost two-thirds (64%) of Universal Credit claimants had to spend July’s first Cost of Living payment from government on food
  • This starkly shows the support package has not been enough to protect people from harm or tackle soaring bills, the charity warns, as it calls on new Prime Minister to urgently provide more support

The Trussell Trust has published new research highlighting the devastating impact the cost of living crisis is having on people forced to survive on the lowest incomes.

The charity is urging new Prime Minister Liz Truss to address soaring living costs, which are leading to more people using food banks, in the emergency budget expected on 21 September.

The research, a YouGov survey of 1,846 people in receipt of Universal Credit during August 2022, found more than two million* people had skipped meals across the previous three months to keep up with other essential costs.

Worryingly, 38% of people said they’d gone a whole day with no food at all or just one meal, in the last month, because they couldn’t afford to buy enough food.

Almost a quarter of people surveyed (23%) have been unable to travel to work or essential appointments, such as the doctors or the school run in the last three months, because they couldn’t afford public transport, or fuel, while a fifth (21%) of people said they didn’t cook hot food because they couldn’t afford to use the oven or other utilities.

This comes as the Trussell Trust revealed that food banks in its network provided 50% more parcels to people across the UK in recent months, compared to before the pandemic. This means a parcel provided to someone facing hardship every 13 seconds.

And while the charity welcomed the UK government’s £15bn support package announced in May aimed at helping people pay for essentials, it says these measures are no longer enough as the crisis has escalated. Despite the survey being conducted in mid-August, almost 70% of people surveyed who had received a cost of living payment, said they had already had to spend all of the £326 they received from the government in mid to late July, of which 64% of people had to use the money to buy food.  The next payment is due by 7th September but the pressure of rising energy prices and return to school costs mean that the £324 is unlikely to cover the necessary bills and even more people will need to turn to food banks.

The research shows that financial insecurity is a problem for millions of people, and that this number is growing, even before the imminent increase in energy costs.

More than a third (34%) of people surveyed said they have fallen into debt in the last three months because they couldn’t keep up with essential bills.

The Trussell Trust says it expects more and more people to be forced to access food banks unless the government takes immediate action to ensure the social security system provides people with enough support to afford the essentials.

The charity is standing with 70 other organisations to call for at least a doubling of the additional support offered to people on the lowest incomes.

It is also urging the government to take action in the emergency budget to address the worrying levels of hardship people are facing by rethinking the deductions that it takes from people’s benefits payments. Furthermore, the government should provide better, long-term funding for local crisis response, so local authorities can provide much needed support directly to communities. Only then will we be able to end the need for food banks in the future, the charity said.

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

“We are deeply concerned that 40% of people claiming Universal Credit are skipping meals, as winter approaches, and this is only going to get worse for people who already struggling to get by. It’s wrong that people are missing meals and are unable to afford to cook, because they are sick or disabled or caring for someone.  

“The reality is that, instead of providing a lifeline when our circumstances change, financial support such as Universal Credit is leaving people – 41% of whom are working – without enough income to stay warm, fed and dry. It’s pushing people to the doors of food banks, and that’s simply not right. If people are to have enough money to live with dignity, we need strong systems that lift us out of hardship rather than plunging us deeper into poverty. 

“The government must act now to protect people from harm. This means at least doubling the additional support offered to people on the lowest incomes and rethinking the deductions from the very payments that are meant to help them. If you agree everyone should be able to afford life’s essentials, join us in calling for a stronger social security system that provides security every day, not just in times of national crisis.”  


Notes to editors:

  1. As part of a £15bn support package of measures announced in May, the government sent all households eligible for Universal Credit £326 to help due to energy price increases. This is the first of two payments. The second is due at some point from the autumn onwards.
  2. Forty-one percent of people claiming Universal Credit were in work in June 2022. Universal Credit statistics, 29 April 2013 to 14 July 2022, Department for Work and Pensions,
  3. The research is based on an online survey by YouGov of 1,846 adults (18+) currently claiming Universal Credit. All, figures unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Fieldwork was carried out online and was undertaken 10 – 31 August 2022. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults claiming Universal Credit.
  4. The Trussell Trust estimates that over two million people claiming Universal Credit skipped meals to keep up with other essential costs in the previous three months. This is based on a calculation by the Trussell Trust multiplying the following:
    1. Forty percent of people claiming Universal Credit said that in the last three months they had ‘needed to skip meals to keep up with other essential costs’.
    2. The total number of people in Great Britain claiming Universal Credit in July 2022 was 5,670,824. In Northern Ireland in February 2022 there were 132,090 people claiming Universal Credit. Figures from Stat-Xplore and the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.
  5. All weighting data provided by the Trussell Trust from Stat-Xplore.
  6. Food parcel statistics relate to data collected by food banks in the Trussell Trust network. Data from food banks in the Trussell Trust network is collected via vouchers that are issued by referral agencies, such as health visitors, schools, social workers, and organisations such as Citizens Advice. In April and May of this year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network provided more than 420,000 emergency food parcels to people facing hardship. This was an increase of 50% in comparison to food parcels distributed in April and May 2019, the year prior to the pandemic.
  7. Other detailed information on question wording and results available from the Trussell Trust on request.