Giant interactive till roll highlights imbalance between essential living costs and Universal Credit

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Giant till receipt coming out of billboard with text
  • Charities the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) surprise commuters with billboard installation as they call on UK government to ensure Universal Credit at least covers the cost of life’s essentials
  • Actor Charlotte Ritchie and singer-songwriter Joy Crookes join volunteers at installation to campaign for a future where everyone can afford life’s essentials

TODAY anti-poverty charities the Trussell Trust and JRF transformed a billboard close to Finsbury Park tube into a “till-board” with a 48-sheet receipt roll. The giant receipt lists the typical essential costs we all incur each week and highlights that these outgoings are always more than the basic rate of Universal Credit, forcing many people who need the support of the social security system to go without the essentials we all need to get by.

This comes as the charities urge the UK government to create what they’ve coined an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ by changing the law to make sure Universal Credit payments always, at a minimum, provide enough to the cover cost of basic essentials such as food, utilities and vital household goods.

Actor Charlotte Ritchie, best known for her roles in Call the Midwife, Ghosts and You, joined Brit and Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Joy Crookes, alongside food bank managers, volunteers and people who have experienced poverty, at the till-board which will remain in-situ until tomorrow evening. Powerful stories from people in receipt of Universal Credit, who have been forced to go without, also feature as part of the installation.

Research by the charities reveals that the £85 weekly Universal Credit standard allowance is £35 less than the weekly cost of common essential items for a single person, contributing to hundreds of thousands of people being forced to use food banks because they can’t make ends meet. Right now, 90% of low-income households receiving Universal Credit say they have to go without essentials, according to research by JRF.

The Essentials Guarantee would be enshrined in law and set regularly, based on an independent recommendation, and would be the first time since the welfare state was created that social security rates were based on what people need, and how much those things actually cost. The charities calculated that a list of essential items includes water bills, gas and electric, travel expenses, food items such as bread, rice and vegetables, and hygiene and cleaning products like toothpaste and washing up liquid currently costs approximately £120 per week for a single person.

Chief Executive at the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said:

“This giant till roll makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the cost of even just essential items is surpassing the amount that hundreds of thousands of people in receipt of Universal Credit have to live on each week. We want everyone who sees it to stop and think about how they would cope if they had just £85 a week to live off – you quickly realise that it just doesn’t add up.

“For too long people have been going without because social security payments are not based on a real reflection of life’s costs and are being pushed deeper into hardship as a result.

“We all deserve the dignity of staying warm, fed and protected from poverty and we know with the right financial support, people would not be forced to experience hunger.

“It’s time to guarantee our essentials and for the UK government to urgently change the law so that the standard allowance of Universal Credit will always cover our essentials. By pledging this the government will be taking a crucial step towards ending the need for food banks.”

Ben, a volunteer at Warrington Foodbank, who claims Universal Credit and struggles to get by, said:

“Not being able to afford the essentials is like trying to wade through quicksand. Just when you think you are kind of getting somewhere there’ll be something else, there’ll be another knock back.

“People are obviously using food banks because the money they’re getting from the social security system isn’t enough to sustain their basic needs. If the social security system were adequate food banks wouldn’t be needed. And that would be an amazing position to be in, for food banks to become unnecessary.”

Actor Charlotte Ritchie said:

“People shouldn’t be struggling to afford everyday essentials in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world. When a food parcel is given out every 13 seconds, something is seriously wrong. This campaign shows that Universal Credit doesn’t add up. Change is needed so that the social security system will always at the very least cover people’s essentials, so that no one needs to use a food bank to get by.”

Singer-songwriter Joy Crookes said:

“The giant till roll was a real eye-opener. Everyone should have enough money to cover their essentials, but you quickly realise £85 isn’t enough, and it’s forcing people to food banks. People need to see this activation and realise that it doesn’t add up. That’s why I’m fully supportive of an Essentials Guarantee to ensure Universal Credit payments never fall below the amount food, utilities and other essentials, actually cost.”

Find out more about the Guarantee our Essentials campaign and the research behind it


Notes to Editors

Contact the Trussell Trust for more information on 020 3137 3699 or [email protected]

Photo: Robin Prime