People 'can't afford to have oven on for jacket potato' as Universal Credit claims rise

  • Watch Richard Payne's report.

New figures show nearly 20,000 more people in the South West are claiming the Universal Credit benefit than before the start of the pandemic.

More than 95,000 people in the region needed financial assistance from the Government last month but research from the charity Action for Children shows that for many people the benefit is failing to meet even basic living costs.

Prices have risen so much that people can't afford to heat the oven to make a jacket potato, a Bath-based charity has said.

Single mum Victoria Walker has told ITV News with weekly food and fuel prices increasing by as much as 50 per cent, tough choices are becoming part of every day life.

Victoria said: "It's difficult to say that you don't know where your next pound is going to come from.

"I have quite a few sleepless nights worrying about it and sometimes when it's really cold and we haven't been able to afford it we've all been in one room together to try and keep the warmth in, it's hard.

"I don't see an end, I just see it as there's a light at the end of the tunnel and if you just keep moving forward no matter how hard it gets you're going to get there at the end."

Victoria budgets £65 for a weekly shop for herself and her children but has nothing spare for unexpected costs so sacrifices her own meals.

She said: "You get the unexpected costs and suddenly that leaves you in the middle of nowhere and you've got to rearrange what budget you've got left for the rest of the week or the rest of the month."

Allison Todd, founder of Bath based charity Mercy In Action has told ITV News that the number of families visiting their food bank has jumped from 30 to more than 100.

Each week, there are around 15 new referrals from concerned doctors, teachers and social workers.

Allison has around 15 new referrals every week from concerned doctors, teachers and social workers. Credit: ITV News

Allison says the government's cancellation last autumn of its £20 weekly increase for Universal Credit claimants has significantly contributed to today's cost of living crisis.

She said: "The universal credit drop last autumn hit families badly and now with the cost of living rising week by week, it's really affecting families, they are having to make cutbacks.

"I grew up in the 60s in poverty and I knew what it was to go hungry but that changed over the following 20 years and standards changed.

"It's really back to those sort of levels now, people skipping meals, children not having school uniform, mums going without shoes to feed their children and families really suffering in a way I haven't seen before. People really can't cope anymore.

"People can't even do jacket potatoes now because they can't afford to have the oven on for an hour."

The authors of today's report, Action for Children, are demanding a cross-government plan to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty starting with restoring the Universal Credit increase.