More than 90 charities unite behind a powerful call on party leaders to guarantee essentials for low-income households amid rising hardship.
Over 90 organisations have asked politicians what they intend to do to help the millions of households still going without essentials.
In a letter to all UK political party leaders, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the Trussell Trust and other NGOs, charities and professional bodies say that, despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, nine in ten low-income households on Universal Credit are currently going without essentials.
The letter comes as the Trussell Trust is due to reveal how many emergency food parcels were distributed by food banks in its network over the past year, next Wednesday.
The cost-of-living crisis, which has seen the prices of everyday items like food and clothing soar since 2021, has made this problem worse. But the UK's inadequate social security system hasn't provided enough help for years. 2.4 million people experienced destitution at some point in 2019, up 54% since 2017.
Research by JRF and the Trussell Trust published earlier this year showed how the shortfall between the basic rate of Universal Credit and the cost of essentials, such as food, bills and vital household items, is a key driver behind increasing levels of hardship.
The standard allowance of Universal Credit is only £85 a week for a single adult. That's at least £35 a week below a conservative estimate of what's needed to afford these essentials. Often people receive even less as they face deductions from their support which are automatically taken at unaffordable rates, for example to pay off debts to the UK government.
It's why so many organisations from those helping single parents of young children to others helping people with mental health problems or long-term disabilities want the governments of the UK to back the Essentials Guarantee. This means ensuring that the basic rate of Universal Credit at least covers the cost of life's essentials, with support never being pulled below that level.
Katie Schmuecker, JRF Principal Policy Advisor, said:
“Every day sees another person's circumstances change whether it's losing their job, needing to care for a sick family member or ending a relationship. Our social security system is meant to give us peace of mind that the support will be there when we need it. But the price of food we all need to eat and the bills we all must pay are still too often outpacing the income of those on Universal Credit, many of whom will be in work. We must remind political leaders that, whether they like it or not, this is driving millions of people into hardship and it is not a problem that will go away without bold and concerted action.
“It is time to build a system that is needs-tested - where the support people get is linked to the actual costs of essentials to meet basic needs rather than the baseless system people have to suffer now.”
Polly Jones, head of Scotland for the Trussell Trust, said:
“We all deserve the dignity of staying warm, fed and protected from poverty. For too long people have been going without because social security payments are not based on a real reflection of life's costs and are being pushed deeper into hardship as a result.
“The support of 90 organisations backing our call to guarantee our essentials confirms what we already know - that the vast majority of the UK public agrees everyone should be able to afford life's essentials, such as food and bills.
“We know with the right financial support, people would not be forced to experience hunger. The time is now for the UK government to urgently change the law so that the standard allowance of Universal Credit will always cover our essentials. By pledging this the government will be taking a crucial step towards ending the need for food banks.
Fiona Loud, Policy Director at Kidney Care UK, said:
“Chronic Kidney disease and its treatment can make it impossible to maintain an adequate income. In the first two months of 2023 alone, we saw 48% more applications for our financial support compared to the same period in 2022. We have been hearing from people with kidney disease every week that they are being forced to choose between heating, eating, making every day purchases and their life saving dialysis. It just doesn't add up and we need action to help people survive. We need the basic rate of Universal Credit to at least cover the cost of essentials like food, household bills and travel costs.”
Brian Dow, Deputy Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness:
“It's impossible to improve your mental health when every day is shaped by the agonising worry and anxiety of how you will make ends meet. Financial hardship makes people more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poor mental health and jeopardise their prospects of recovery from mental illness. We need to see the government take action to ensure social security represents the safety net it's intended to be by meeting the cost of the basic essentials we all need.”
Sue Christoforou, Senior Policy and Campaigns Adviser, Financial Health, at Parkinson's UK said:
“There are thousands of people with Parkinson's of working age, and a recent survey we conducted showed that around half can no longer work at the same rate or for the number of hours a week that they had been able to before their diagnosis.
“No longer able to work, as much as previously and not yet old enough to claim a pension, many will find themselves reliant on Universal Credit, a benefit that does not pay enough to live on.
“Receiving a diagnosis of a degenerative condition like Parkinson's when you're young is hard enough to comprehend. Stress and worry that benefits won't provide enough money to buy essentials creates unnecessary pressure and worsens symptoms making it harder to work and live well. That is why we agree that Universal Credit must be paid at a rate that will guarantee our essentials.”
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, said:
“We hear from many unpaid carers providing round the clock care for relatives who are older, disabled or seriously ill who are constantly stressed and worried about making ends meet. A quarter of carers (25%) told us late last year that they are cutting back on essentials such as food or heating - nearly twice as many compared to 13% in 2021. Those receiving Carer's Allowance, which is just £76.75 a week, were even more likely to be cutting back on food and heating (35%).
“Unpaid carers contribute so much to our society, but they have been left without targeted financial support when they desperately need it which is unacceptable. The Carer Poverty Coalition, a collection of over 100 organisations led by Carers UK, wants to see Carer's Allowance increased and reformed so that it better helps unpaid carers, recognising and valuing their support as well as preventing financial hardship. For lower-income carers receiving Universal Credit, it is vital that Government increases the basic rate so that they can at least cover the cost of essentials.”
Director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said:
“The most disturbing thing about millions of children falling through the huge holes in our social security net into poverty - which damages childhoods and destroys life chances - is not that the Government continues to tolerate this, but that their policy choices have been a big reason why this is happening and why things are expected to get worse.
“The £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit helped cut child poverty in the first year of the pandemic, but just as prices began soaring 18 months later, that help was snatched away from families.
“We must confront the myth that everyone in poverty can simply work their way out of it. Our analysis shows that work is often not a route out of hardship for families where both parents or a single parent is already working full time, have long-term sickness or disability, or caring responsibilities.
“An approach built on what works would ensure we have a social safety net that enables families to meet their essential costs, and that benefits can do their job of providing a basic minimum living standard.”
Over two thirds of people in poverty (69%) would gain from the Essentials Guarantee which would benefit everyone in receipt of Universal Credit. It would also lift around 1.8 million people out of poverty altogether, including 600,000 children.
For more information, read our report, Guarantee Our Essentials, here. As part of the campaign, the Trussell Trust and JRF transformed a billboard close to Finsbury Park tube into a “till-board” with a 48-sheet receipt roll. The giant receipt lists the typical essential costs we all incur each week and highlights that these outgoings are always more than the basic rate of Universal Credit, forcing many people who need the support of the social security system to go without the essentials we all need to get by. Read more here.
The full letter, sent to all UK political leaders today, and a list of signing organisations is below:
To: UK political party leaders
When people are going without, it's time to guarantee #OurEssentials.
We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet people here in the UK are going without the essentials we all need to get by.
Everyone's circumstances can change. Losing your job, needing to care for a sick family member, breaking up with your partner - these are things that can happen to anyone.
Others will be facing longer-term challenges, such as single parents of young children who are only able to work part-time, or those living with long term disabilities or ill health.
Our social security system should offer support to anyone in need of help, but right now it's not providing enough to cover the cost of life's essentials, such as food, utilities and vital household goods, with nine out of ten low-income households receiving Universal Credit going without one or more of these essentials.
This means that those facing shorter-term setbacks are too often spiralling into deeper hardship, making it harder for them to get back on their feet, and those already dealing with longer term challenges are experiencing impossible levels of ongoing hardship.
We can't always deal with what life throws at us on our own, which is why we need to have a system in place that supports us all to afford the essentials. This means ensuring that the basic rate of Universal Credit must at least cover life's essentials, with support never being pulled below that level.
Together, we're calling on you to adopt the Essentials Guarantee.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Trussell Trust
Action for Children -
British Association of Social Workers
British Liver Trust -
Centre for Mental Health
Centre for Progressive Policy -
Chartered Institute of Housing
Citizens Advice Scotland
Children North East
Christians Against Poverty
Communities that Work -
End Furniture Poverty
Good Things Foundation
Greater Manchester Poverty Action
Homeless Link -
Human Rights Watch
Huntington's Disease Association
Independent Food Aid Network
Joint Public Issues Team
Kidney Care UK
Lloyds Bank Foundation (England & Wales)
Macmillan Cancer Support
Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health UK
Money Advice Trust
Motor Neurone Disease Association
National AIDS Trust -
National Association of Voluntary and Community Action
National Education Union
National Housing Federation
National Zakat Foundation
New Economics Foundation
North East Child Poverty Commission
One Parent Families Scotland
Rethink Mental Illness
Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
Save the Children
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
Scottish Out of School Care Network
St Vincent de Paul Society (England & Wales)
The Big Issue
The Children's Society
The Connection at St-Martin-in-the-Fields
The Equality Trust
The Food Foundation
The Hygiene Bank
The Methodist Church
The Mighty Creatives
The Poverty Alliance
The Poverty Truth Community
The Robertson Trust
The Salvation Army
The United Reformed Church
Trust for London
UK Community Foundations
Voluntary Organisations Disability Group
We Care Campaign
Women's Budget Group
Women's Regional Consortium (NI)
Women's Support Network (NI)