90% of Low-Income Families on Universal Credit Going Without Essentials

Fri,5 July 2024
News Benefits
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has published the latest in its “cost of living tracker" series.

The JRF explores the current state of hardship across 3 key themes: going without essentials, being in arrears and taking on debt, and struggling to cope through the crisis to date, highlighting “all demand urgent attention”.

Surveying 4,092 households in the bottom 40% of incomes between 26 April and 9 May 2024, it finds that:

  • 7 million low-income families (60%) reported going without essentials like food, showers, heating and toiletries in the 6 months to May 2024, including 5.4 million experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the survey.
  • 4.3 million low-income families (37%) are in arrears with at least one household bill or credit commitment, and 1.2 million are in arrears with 4 or more bills. The total amount of arrears owed by low-income households is around £6.3 billion, with an average amount owed of around £1,400.
  • 3.8 million low-income families currently hold £7.5 billion worth of debt through loans originally taken out to pay for food, housing or essential bills like council tax or energy.

The JRF reports that: “Levels of hardship remain high, with the number of low-income households going without essentials like food, showers and adequate clothing not falling below 7 million in the 2 years we have been tracking the cost-of-living crisis.

As in previous waves, food is the most commonly forgone item, with 5.4 million low-income households (46%) in food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the survey in May 2024, including:

  • 5.1 million low-income households (44%) cutting down on the size of meals or skipping them,
  • 4 million (34%) going hungry.

It continues: “In May 2024, 86% of low-income families on Universal Credit went without essentials, unchanged from a year ago despite the uplift in April of 2023 of 10.1% and cost of living payments totalling £900 during this time.

The impact of uprating benefits and reinstating the frozen Local Housing Allowance to cover the bottom 30% of local rents from April 2024 is not captured in these findings. However, the fact that hardship for those on Universal Credit has not budged in the last year despite uprating shows us that uprating alone is not enough to shift the dial on hardship.

These benefit changes were the bare minimum needed to support families who need our social safety net.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said “benefit rates remain a national scandal.

“In an earlier research report, UK Poverty 2023, the JRF highlighted that “Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and have done so for at least the last 20 years.

“This is driven partly by the additional costs associated with disability and ill-health, and partly by the barriers to work Disabled people face.

“As a result, Disabled people and/or families where someone is Disabled frequently rely on benefit payments as a source of income, which at current rates will almost inevitably lead to higher poverty rates”.

Ken added: “DR UK argues that policy in relation to benefit rates informed by independent research on minimum income standards along the lines of that conducted annually by the JRF. 

“The new Government should regularly commission such independent research, not least in relation to the benefit rates that particularly pertain to Disabled people. Without such information, benefits will not meet essential costs.

“But this must not be only a matter of subsistence.

“Independent living requires that Disabled people should be able to afford to take part in the range of social and cultural activities that much of society takes for granted.”

For more information, see The scale of the challenge: JRF's pre-election cost of living tracker.