The Trussell Trust has published new research that reveals the true and devastating consequences of the inadequacy of Universal Credit, with millions of families across the country struggling to make ends meet – including working households and disabled people.
- A third of working families (32%) receiving the benefit report struggling to heat their homes in the last six months, while one in five (21%) have been unable to make essential journeys such as travel to work or the school run because they couldn’t afford the cost of fuel or public transport, the charity says
- The research finds that in the last three months people claiming Universal Credit were slightly over four times more likely to skip meals (40% vs 9%) and be unable to cook hot food (21% vs 5%) than the wider population who are not claiming any benefits. It also indicates that people claiming Universal Credit were over five times more likely to go without toiletries like shampoo and soap in the last six months (17% vs 3%), as payments fail to cover the cost of the essentials we all need to get by
- Worryingly, disabled families receiving the benefit are nearly twice as likely to go without other essentials so they can afford food than non-disabled families (41% vs 25%) – with many in disabled families going without dental treatment (37%) and medication (16%) due to lack of income.
- The situation is worsening with more people claiming Universal Credit accessing a food bank in the last 30 days compared with the same period last year (11% vs 8%).
The charity is urging the government to ensure that benefits are always enough to afford the essentials. They state that, as a minimum – this must begin with the Chancellor committing to increase benefits in line with inflation in his autumn statement this November and reduce the burden of debt deductions which reduce Universal Credit payments even further for millions of families.
The research by YouGov found that nearly half of working households who were in receipt of Universal Credit (49%) ran out of food and didn’t have enough money to buy more in the past month, and one in five (21%) working families in receipt of Universal Credit have been unable to make an essential journey such as travelling to work or the school run because they couldn’t afford the cost of fuel or public transport in the last six months.
The situation is worsening as more people claiming Universal Credit – almost 700,000 in total – had to turn to food banks last month than in the same period a year ago (11% vs 8%). Similarly, more people have fallen into debt (40% in 2023 vs 34% in 2022) in the past three months and among housed people 47% struggled to keep their homes warm last winter, compared with 31% the previous year.
Worryingly, disabled households receiving Universal Credit face even greater hardship with nearly four in ten (37% vs 28% for non-disabled households) forgoing essential dental treatment in the last six months because they can’t afford it, and in the same period one in six (16% vs 11% of non-disabled households) going without prescriptions, pain relief or over the counter medication because they didn’t have enough money. This is despite some people on Universal Credit being eligible for free healthcare.
Millions of people are also trapped in a cycle of paying money back to the government through benefit deductions, which is pushing them further to the brink. Nearly three quarters (73%) of people surveyed with deductions have run out of food in the past month and not had enough money to buy more and two thirds (65%) have fallen into debt because they couldn’t keep up with essential bills.
The Trussell Trust says it expects many more people to be forced to access food banks this winter and is calling on the UK government to introduce an Essentials Guarantee so the basic rate of Universal Credit is always enough to cover life’s essentials and support can never be pulled below that level.
Nikki, a mum who receives Universal Credit and was supported by her local food bank, said:
“Winter is coming and my bills are only going to go up, but social security payments will stay the same. I just don’t know how they expect people to survive. When you’re having to live on a pittance, it makes you not want to be here. My kids have never gone to bed without meals, but I have so they can eat.”
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said:
“We are deeply concerned that millions of people claiming Universal Credit are running out of food and this is only going to get worse as winter approaches. Food banks are telling us that they are seeing growing numbers of people who are working as well as people who are unable to work due to a disability or caring responsibilities. It isn’t right that so many people are struggling to put food on the table or cover the costs of travelling to work. The reality is that, instead of providing a lifeline for people, Universal Credit is leaving people with no option but to access a food bank.
“The Chancellor must act now to protect people from further harm this winter. At the very least, this means confirming his commitment to bring benefits in line with inflation when he makes his autumn statement in November and making debt deductions more affordable. If you agree everyone should be able to cover life’s essentials, join us in calling for a stronger social security system that helps end the need for food banks, for good.”
To support the Guarantee Our Essentials campaign, sign our petition.
Notes to editors:
1. The research is based on:
– an online survey by YouGov of 3,007 adults (16+) from the YouGov Plc UK panel of 2.5 million individuals. Fieldwork was undertaken 11 – 24 August 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+).
– an online survey by YouGov of 2,017 adults (16+) currently claiming Universal Credit. Fieldwork was undertaken 11 August – 5 September 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults claiming Universal Credit.
– an online survey by YouGov of 1,846 adults (16+) claiming Universal Credit in 2022. Fieldwork was undertaken 10th August – 31st August 2022. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults claiming Universal Credit.
2. All weighting data for the survey of people claiming Universal Credit was provided by the Trussell Trust from Stat-Xplore.
4. 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 August 2023 and data from the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland in February 2023 and multiplying by the survey results. These figures do not include children.
5. The total number of people aged 16+ in Great Britain claiming Universal Credit in August 2023 was 6,094,966. In Northern Ireland in February 2023 there were 148,240 people claiming Universal Credit.
6. Working households are defined as households where the survey participant reported that they had a paid job and/or a member of the survey participants household is either working full-time, part-time or is self-employed. The sample size for working households claiming Universal Credit is 1,108.
7. Disabled households are defined as households where the survey participant reported that they or a member of their households’ ability to carry out day to day activities is reduced a little or a lot because of a physical or mental health condition or a long-term illness. The total sample size for disabled households claiming Universal Credit is 1,421.
8. Comparisons to the wider population are made to people in the general population who do not receive any income from benefits (including Child Benefit, Housing Benefit, the State Pension or tax credit)
Other detailed information on question wording and results available from the Trussell Trust on request.