Nearly half of benefits claimants unable to afford essentials, charity says

Figures showed nearly 50% of claimants cannot afford essentials Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Nearly half of claimants hit by the benefits freeze cannot afford essentials such as rent, bills and food, new data has revealed.

Figures from Citizens Advice found that 49% of people affected by the freeze had struggled to meet essential costs such as rent, bills and food while 40% had lost sleep due to cash worries in the past 12 months.

The charity said disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries.

The figures, published on Monday, were worse for Universal Credit claimants, with 55% having gone without essentials such as food and 51% saying they have lost sleep because of their finances, the charity said.

Almost 40% of claimants had less than £100 at the end of each month after paying for rent or their mortgage, food, council tax and household bills, it added.

Citizens Advice said it was “totally unacceptable” that the benefits system was not providing the safety net people needed.

It is calling on the Government to end the benefit rates freeze and reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit claims.

Its chief executive Gillian Guy said: “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.”

The findings, from a UK-wide survey of 2,751 working-age adults, also showed that disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials such as food and toiletries.

Around 44% of disabled people’s households and 45% of households with children went without in the past 12 months, Citizens Advice said.

The charity said since the level of most benefits like Universal Credit and Tax Credits was frozen in 2016 it was having “serious consequences”, with more than a quarter of people claiming benefits saying financial worries had made them feel lonely or isolated or affected their mental health.

It is also urging the Government to uprate payments by the Consumer Prices Index plus 2% for four years, recalculate the Local Housing Allowance to at least the 30th percentile of local rents and re-establish the link with rental prices.

A Government spokesman said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government.  There are no current plans to extend or maintain the benefit freeze after March 2020.

“Income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010, but we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.

“Universal Credit is supporting more than two million people and it’s working for the vast majority. Advance payments provide money urgently for people if they need it, and there are measures in place to ensure repayments are affordable.”