Half of working families on universal credit run out of food each month

22nd September 2023

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.

The research found that 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 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.

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.

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.”