Impact on families after Universal Credit cut amid cost of living crisis revealed

Three in 10 families on Universal Credit had to choose between heating and eating, according to the research. Credit: PA

The impact of the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit on families across Wales amidst the soaring cost of living crisis has been revealed.

The new research by Action for Children found parents on the breadline are unable to put food on the table, heat homes, afford bills or have enough money to commute to work.

Data from the charity's Crisis Fund was analysed over a six month period following the cut along with a survey of frontline staff.

Workers described how one girl in nursery eats dinner in bed to stay warm, whilst another family uses a kitchen hob as a heater.

"The worst pain and misery of the cost of living crisis is being felt by children in low income families."

One mum explained: "You read the reports about energy bills reaching £3,000 by the winter – how are we going to afford that? We literally can’t live. I don’t think I’ll even manage priority bills let alone luxuries like food. Who’d have thought eating would become a luxury?"

The Welsh Government said it has repeatedly called on the UK government to do "the right thing". Credit: PA

Action for Children is calling on the Chancellor to do more for children worst affected by the cost of living crisis by raising benefits in line with inflation and improving the child element of Universal Credit.

The data revealed that more than half of the charity's grants were for families on Universal Credit suggesting the benefit is failing to meet basic living costs.

Shopping vouchers and requests to buy fridges and cookers are among the most common.

In addition to food poverty, extra crisis support staff also highlighted the impacts they have seen on families with 17% negotiating with energy companies to help manage their bills.

Among the workers, nearly half (45%) of those surveyed worked longer or irregular hours.

Applicants to the fund reported feelings of stress in both adults and children, anxiety and mental health concerns with almost two-thirds of families requiring home visits and wellbeing checks.

In one example, the report described a working parent in South East Wales who had suffered financial and domestic abuse and left the relationship, but now cannot afford to fix her broken roof and keep warm. The parent described the situation as "a new perpetrator of financial abuse".

The UK Government said it is "putting £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit". Credit: PA

Many workers describe parents skipping meals so their children had enough food or worrying about debts as they were unable to pay bills.

A key frontline worker explained: "Essential living costs have made it very difficult for families we support, the majority of which have at last one parent working.

"Our crisis funds are greatly appreciated by anyone who has received them, and we have helped with shopping and replacing white goods such as fridges and cookers. While this definitely helps, it is only short-term relief and these issues affect families day-in, day-out."

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Brigitte Gater, National Director for Action for Children in Wales, said: "The worst pain and misery of the cost of living crisis is being felt by children in low income families, yet the UK Government is refusing to target help for these children or accept that it needs to rethink its huge cut to Universal Credit.

"Whilst our Crisis Fund can help to relieve some of these pressures, it cannot address the underlying causes driving rising deprivation or offer a solution for families bearing the brunt of this deep-rooted cost of living crisis.

"We desperately need a cross-government plan to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty in the UK, but we can start today by guaranteeing benefits keep pace with the cost of living and target help to children in low income families through a rise in the child element of Universal Credit."

Almost two in three families required home visits and wellbeing checks. Credit: PA

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson explained: "We have been robust in our criticism of the UK government's shameful decision to end the £20pw uplift which resulted in over 230,000 households in Wales losing £1,000 a year in income.

"This is why the Welsh Government has repeatedly called on the UK government to do the right thing - reinstate the £20pw uplift payment for Universal Credit and increase benefit payment rates to match the expected average inflation rate for this financial year."

Meanwhile, the UK Government said they are "committed to ending poverty" and that there are now half a million fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2009/10.

It added: "We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

"For the hardest hit, we're putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials."