The benefits freeze is leaving thousands of benefit claimants in the UK without money to pay for essentials like food, bills and rent.
And nearly two in five of them say they have less than £100 left to live off at the end of each month after paying for their household bills, food, rent or mortgage and council tax.
Up to 55 per cent of people on Universal Credit said they have had to forego paying for the basics because they struggle financially even on benefits, Citizens Advice research revealed.
Nearly half of all benefit claimants said this was an issue for them, with 40 per cent having lost sleep due to money worries in the last year.
Danielle, a parent of two, was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through chemotherapy in the past year.
Now in remission, she said Universal Credit added a huge amount of stress when she was going through treatment.
“My payments were delayed when I went from being self-employed to being off due to needing chemotherapy.
“Thankfully I have a 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.”
The charity is demanding the government uses this week’s spending review to end the benefits freeze as well as reducing the five-week wait people have to endure before receiving their first Universal Credit payments.
The survey of 2,751 working-age adults also found that disabled people and people with children were more likely to have gone without essentials like food and toiletries.
Our new research shows almost half of people hit by the benefits freeze have struggled to meet essential costs such as rent and food.
— Citizens Advice (@CitizensAdvice) September 2, 2019
Many respondents told the charity that their financial worries had made them feel isolated, with even more confirming that it had affected their mental health.
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, said the benefits system often fails to help people in times of need.
“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.”
Universal credit, local housing allowance (LHA) and tax credits were frozen in April 2016. Now that has amounted to a six per cent cut in real terms after inflation – so the charity also wants the government to recalculate the LHA and re-establish its link to real rental prices.
Today homelessness charity Crisis also urged ministers to restore LHA levels to cover market rents, saying such a move could stop more than 6,000 households from being forced into homelessness as well as lifting more than 35,000 children out of poverty.
New research carried out for the Cover the Cost campaign set out the cost and benefit analysis of a theoretical £3.3bn investment in local housing allowances over three years – something the charity wants the government to commit to.
Earlier this year Campbell Robb, chief executive of social policy charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said keeping benefits and tax credits frozen is “unjustifiable”, with 4.1 million children locked in poverty.
A government spokesman said there are no plans to continue the freeze on benefit rates beyond March next year, and that tackling poverty “will always be a priority for this government”.
They added: “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.”