Social Justice

Benefits system is forcing people on to the streets, Gordon Brown warns

The former prime minister has called for the DWP to stop benefits deductions immediately

Gordon Brown

Former prime minister Gordon Brown. Photo: Andy Mettler/World Economic Forum, licensed under Creative Commons

The UK’s benefits system is penalising the most vulnerable and forcing people onto the streets, former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned.

Writing for the Big Issue’s Christmas edition, Brown called for the government to stop benefit deductions immediately – before Christmas and for the duration of the energy crisis.

Brown, who in response to the energy bills crisis created an Anti-Poverty Coalition which includes the Big Issue and other leading organisations, has spent the autumn campaigning for an increase to universal credit.

“I am more convinced than ever that we need to guarantee a decent minimum income to all in need. But if the government wants to ease pressures before Christmas, the first thing they should do immediately is suspend deductions for the duration of this energy crisis,” Brown said.

He added: “No one should be forced onto the streets. But I’m sensing that our benefits system is now doing just that. It’s not just that benefits are too low for families to make ends meet as fuel and food bills soar.

“It’s that during the worst winter in living memory for millions, the Department for Work and Pensions are persisting with a policy that penalises the most vulnerable – syphoning off deductions from already low benefits – and causing destitution.”

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Universal credit deductions are pushing recipients far below the minimum income needed to get by, Brown argued. He used the example of a single person receiving £77 a week, who after deductions and payments for gas, electric, water, and council tax, would be left with just £3 or £4 – or £21 to £28 a week – to pay for food and other essentials.

The bare minimum income standard, according to Loughborough University, is £34.05. This shortfall means items such as toothpaste and soap are becoming luxuries, Brown said.

“For too many on benefits, it means when anything breaks down – like a cooker, fridge or TV – they cannot be repaired because the call-out and repair costs are too high. It means too that beds, bedding and carpets can never be afforded – and homes are falling into disrepair,” he wrote.

“And it means that toothpaste, soap, toilet rolls – let alone nappies and hygiene products – are becoming luxury goods.”

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

The cost of living crisis has also severely impacted Big Issue sellers this winter, with the number needing help with critical payments for food and fuel increasing seven-fold.

Lord John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, appealed to the public to buy a magazine directly from vendors when they can or take out a subscription to  support vendors throughout the winter.

Read the full article from Brown in the latest edition of the Big Issue magazine, available from vendors across the country.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices
energy bills
Energy bills

Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election
Trussell Trust food banks
General election 2024

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
Department for Work and Pensions

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants
Department for Work and Pensions

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know