Households resorting to desperate measures to cope with rising bills

15th November 2023

Families resorting to ‘desperate measures’ and struggling with ‘frightening’ level of hardship amid cost of living crisis according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) charity.

About 2 million households have been forced to turn off their fridge or freezer to save money as they continue to struggle. Nearly half of those households said that since May they had to disconnect their fridge or freezer for the first time, a sign the cost of living crisis was still hurting low-income families.

The research found that four out of five households on universal credit also going without food, turning off the heating, and not replacing worn-out clothing.

The JRF’s latest cost of living crisis tracker survey found that in October a quarter (2.8 million) of low-income households ran up debt to pay for food, a third sold belongings to raise cash, and one in six had used community ‘warm rooms.’

The findings come amid concerns among poverty charities that ministers are looking to reduce financial help for low income families at next week’s autumn statement by cutting benefits and winding down cost of living support payments.

The JRF said that although the government had allocated more than £12 billion in targeted cost of living support, and inflation has begun to fall, 7.3 million households had gone without food and other essentials in the last six months, suggesting the crisis was far from over.

There is speculation ministers could freeze the value of working age benefits from next April, which would raise billions for the Treasury but make about 9 milion households lose out on an estimated average of £460, and push lower income families even further into poverty.

Charities are concerned that headline falls in inflation levels, while welcome, will do little to improve living standards for the poorest unless benefits, the value of which has been eroded over recent years, are increased to reflect food and energy prices and private sector rents.

Low income groups most likely to be going without essentials are those dependent on universal credit; black, Asian and mixed ethnicity households; families with a disabled member and families with children, said the JRF.

Peter Matejic, Chief Analyst at the JRF said “Millions of families unplugging their fridges and freezers is the latest chapter in a long-running story of hardship. People risk becoming sick from eating spoiled food and going without healthy, fresh food. This risks lasting harm to the health of millions.”

“The picture isn’t getting better for low income families even as inflation starts to come down. Too many are taking out loans to pay for food, selling their belongings and using warm banks to try and get by.”

“It’s unconscionable that the government is reportedly considering cutting struggling families’ benefits to fund tax cuts. In the upcoming autumn statement benefits must be increased in line with inflation and local housing allowance must be unfrozen to support private renters with their housing costs.”