A freeze on benefits is leaving many claimants with less than £100 a month to live on, causing them to go without food, medicine, and toiletries, and having to choose which bills to pay.
A report by Citizens Advice released on Monday (2 September 2019) found that 49 percent of claimants whose benefits have been frozen are struggling to cover all of their essential costs, including rent and bills.
Over two-fifths said that they were losing sleep due to the financial stress caused by the cap on benefit rates.
These figures went up amongst claimants of Universal Credit, with the five-week claim wait causing over 55 percent to go without essentials such as food, and 51 percent saying that they have lost sleep because of financial worries.
The charity said the number of disabled homes and homes with children going without essentials was also high – with between 44 and 45 percent of claimant homes having to go without in the last year.
A Frozen Benefits System
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Certain welfare benefits systems, including rates for Universal Credit and Tax Credits, were frozen from April 2016 and consequently current payments do not take into account the current cost of living, making it difficult for families and individuals to make ends meet.
This has sparked a record-high use of food banks, with the Trussell Trust, the charity responsible for managing a network of food banks across the UK, recording a 19 percent increase in use year-on-year.
It is totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, explained that the benefits system was supposed to help people with their finances in times of need, but said that too often, that wasn’t the case.
“We’ve found people are losing sleep and unable to afford essential things like food and housing while receiving Universal Credit. It is totally unacceptable that our benefits system is not providing the financial safety net that people need.
“The government needs to take urgent action in this week’s spending review by reducing the five-week wait for Universal Credit and ending the freeze on benefit rates,” Guy said.
An Unavoidable Situation
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Danielle had to access Universal Credit last year after being diagnosed with breast cancer whilst she was self-employed.
Payments to the mother-of-two were delayed, adding extra pressure on top of an already stressful situation.
My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.
Danielle, Universal Credit claimant
“Universal Credit during this time added so much stress that I did not need. My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy,” Danielle explained.
Danielle had to turn to her parents to help pay rent and bills, and was only able to repay them once her benefit payments began.
“Thankfully I have family who were able to help me to make sure my rent was paid. And I repaid them when I received my Universal Credit payments. But the stress of thinking I might not be there for my children and how I would pay my bills was at times unbearable.”
Want to learn more on this topic?
- Take a look at an article on the welfare state and human rights.
- Learn about food bank usage on the rise in the UK.
- Read about food banks and the roll out of Universal Credit.