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Cut to Universal Credit: When eating becomes a luxury

Isobel Lawrance 17th May 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Charity Action for Children has released sobering research, painting a devastating picture of the impact of the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit. Amongst the soaring cost of living, it is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable families in the UK hardest.

In the last six months, 54% of grants issued from the charity’s Crisis Fund have gone to families on UC. This suggests the current benefit amount is failing to meet the basic cost of living for many.

Similarly, over one third (39%) of grants have pointed to an inevitable rise in household spending. The choice between food and bills puts great strain on struggling families.


Food poverty

Ensuring families have access to adequate levels of good quality and nutritious food is a major focus for Action for Children. Over half of the money spent since October has supported this mission.

The crisis fund applications showed shocking stats. Nearly a third (31%) of families suggested they would have struggled to feed their children without the Crisis Fund. Worryingly, this figure rose to 37% for those on UC. In another astonishing finding, almost one quarter (24%) of families were choosing between eating meals or paying bills. A stat which rose to 29% for those receiving the UC payment.

The heart-breaking findings only continue. 19% of families, almost one fifth, were cutting back on portion sizes, and over one in ten (13%) were skipping meals to ensure they could feed their children.


Mental health

Of course, this has had huge impacts on the mental wellbeing of many. Nearly half (49%) of applications to the fund reported both adult and child stress, anxiety and mental health concerns. This stat only increased further to 54% for those on Universal Credit, suggesting a huge emotional cost.

These struggles are shown further by the staff surveyed. More than seven in 10 staff (71%) saying they have had to provide staff with extra emotional support. An overwhelming 64% off staff said they had arranged home visits and wellbeing checks in recent months.



Following on from the emotional support, staff have reported on the general support they have to offer families. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of families had been impacted by the cut to Universal Credit. Over half (57%) even suggesting the impact was ‘significant’.

The research also shows crisis support staff found:

  • Nearly half (45%) of those surveyed work longer or irregular hours
  • More than two-fifths (41%) top up families’ energy meters,
  • 17% negotiate with energy companies to help families manage bills, and
  • Nearly one in ten (9%) even donate food to families from their own cupboards.


Case study

cut to universal credit

Leanne, a mother of two from the West Country works 37 hours a week as a finance officer. She is claiming Universal Credit and needed food vouchers from the Action for Children Crisis fund.

She told Action for Children: ‘I have no disposable income whatsoever. My electricity bill has gone from £188 to £279 a month, my council tax has gone up and I’ve had to increase my oil payments – last year they were 19.5p per litre, and now they’re over £1.23.

‘Everything has gone up in the shops too – from food to cleaning products. Things that were £1 are now £1.25 – a 25% increase – now imagine that for a whole food shop. It was a struggle anyway, but now things are so much worse. There’s no way we can survive like this, it’s just impossible.  A lot of people think foodbanks are just for people who don’t work, but people who work like me need them now.

‘You read the reports about energy bills reaching £3,000 by the winter – how the heck are we going to afford that? We literally can’t live. And my kids can’t do anything fun – I can’t afford to take them on special treats like trips to a theme park or anything, that’s simply all gone for them now.

‘There’s no way for me to work more to get myself out of this situation, like the government says I could. With my eldest off to university in September, my money will reduce again as I won’t get his child benefit, or the disabled child element. I’m really worried about the impact of that on us as a family as I want to help him financially, but I simply won’t be able to. I don’t think I’ll even manage priority bills let alone luxuries like food. Who’d have thought eating would become a luxury?’


Statement from Action for Children

Imran Hussain, director of policy and said:

‘The worst pain and misery of the cost of living crisis is being felt by children in low income families, yet the Government is refusing to target help for these children or accept that it needs to rethink its huge cut to Universal Credit. 

‘The levels of severe and persistent financial hardship our services are seeing are among the worst they can remember and are robbing too many children of the bright futures they deserve. Whilst our Crisis Fund can help to relieve some of these pressures, it cannot address the underlying causes driving rising deprivation or offer a solution for families bearing the brunt of this deep-rooted cost of living crisis.

‘We desperately need a cross-government plan to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty in the UK, but we can start today by guaranteeing benefits keep pace with the cost of living and target help to children in low income families through a rise in the child element of Universal Credit. There is so much more our government can do in these tough times to prevent those with the least from continuing to suffer the most.’

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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