Social Justice

Millions can't afford essentials like food. The next government must take action from day one

An open letter signed by organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Big Issue, Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice, Crisis and many more called for the next government to 'urgently set out a plan to help provide immediate relief to families struggling with hardship'

keir starmer campaigning ahead of general election

Keir Starmer, Labour leader, while on the election campaign trail. Image: Flickr/ Keir Starmer

Seven million low-income households were forced to go without essentials like food, adequate clothing and basic toiletries in the six months up to May 2024, new research has found.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s cost of living tracker found that more than a third of low-income families are in arrears – equating to 4.3 million households. Of these, 1.2 million households are in arrears with four or more bills.

It comes as more than 200 organisations including the Big Issue call on the next government to put tackling hardship at the top of their agenda from day one after the general election.

Frustrated by the “stark lack of focus” during the general election campaign, the network of organisations have written an open letter to Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, the most likely contenders for prime minister.

Paul Kissack, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is astonishing that with seven million households going without essentials and record numbers of emergency food parcels being provided neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer are offering any practical measures to tackle this hardship with the urgency required.”

Seven in 10 (71%) low-income households in the bottom 20% of incomes went without essentials in May this year – no improvement from last year.

And five million low-income households (42%) took fewer showers or baths due to cost during the cost of living crisis so far.



In the past year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 3.1m emergency food parcels. 

Helen Barnard, director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust added: “For too many years now, food bank need has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have the money to afford the essentials.

“Ensuring the UK’s social security system is fit for purpose and provides enough support for people to afford the essentials is vital for building a future without the need for food banks. 

“We know that hardship is an issue the public are deeply concerned about and the next government has a responsibility to lead us into a more hopeful future, one where people are supported and food banks can close their doors for good.”

Over the past five years, the number of people experiencing destitution more than doubled. Four million experienced destitution in 2022 including one million children.  

Tom MacInnes, interim director of policy at Citizens Advice, said: “Citizens Advice is helping 6,000 people every day with cost of living issues. They can’t pay rent. They can’t buy food. Millions are just about surviving. 

“Politicians have been skirting around the issue but have failed to offer real solutions. People want to know what will actually be done to help them. Party leaders still haven’t shown what they’d do for households who have more going out than coming in.  

“This is the living standards election and that’s what voters will judge the next government on.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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