Damning new research published today reveals that almost half of people hit the Government’s controversial freeze to working age benefits struggle to afford essential bills.
The value of most working age benefits have frozen since 2016, despite mounting evidence showing that the policy is pushing people to food banks and into the arms of high-cost lenders.
Analysis by Citizens Advice found that 49% of affected households find it difficult to pay essential costs such as rent, household bills and even put food on the table.
The data also shows that 40% of claimants have lost sleep due to worrying about bills.
The impact of the benefits freeze is even worse for Universal Credit claimants, with 55% forced to go without food and 51% losing sleep over money worries.
Worryingly, disabled people and families with children were the most likely to have gone without essentials like toiletries and food. According to the charities findings, around 44% of disabled people’s households and 45% of households with children went without in the past 12 months.
Danielle, a parent of two children who was helped by Citizens Advice, said: “I have been through so much in the past year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and now I am in remission and health-wise am doing so much better.
“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.
“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.”
Citizens Advice is calling on Government to put an end to the benefits freeze and reduce the minimum five-week wait for Universal Credit.
The charity warns that failing to make these changes could have a disastrous impact on poor and vulnerable people, adding that 27% of people claiming benefits say financial worries have made them feel lonely or isolated and 29% say financial worries have affected their mental health.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The benefits system is designed to help people with their finances in times of need, but too often our frontline staff and volunteers see a different story.
“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.”