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Citizens Advice - Ending the benefits freeze won’t stop families facing the choice between heating and eating
MPs are set to end the benefits freeze by agreeing to increase income-related benefits by inflation.
While a welcome move, new analysis by Citizens Advice shows that almost 4 in 10 households that seek debt advice and receive these frozen benefits would still not have enough money to cover their costs by 2024 - even if these rises were to continue in future years.
Citizens Advice has helped people such as Sheila, 64, who works part time and receives Universal Credit. Her payments can change on a monthly basis, making it hard for her to budget and cover her monthly costs. She is trapped in council tax and rent arrears, and has had to resort to a foodbank.
She said: “Quite often I don't have any electric, so I'm very cold. I can’t even make a hot water bottle to keep warm, or make a hot drink. I have to stay under the duvet.
“Even in the months when I am paid my full Universal Credit and wages it's still really hard to afford everything, including food.
“It's all swings and roundabouts, I just don't have enough money coming in to pay the council tax and rent arrears, the actual council tax, buy food and top up my gas and electric.”
The analysis from Citizens Advice found that the number of people who are unable to cover their living costs has increased since the benefits freeze began in 2016. In the first five months of the current financial year, 40% of the people the charity helped with debt who claim income-related benefits didn't have enough money to cover their living costs - an increase of 25% since the freeze came into effect.
Citizens Advice is continuing to call for the government to help address this problem by increasing income-related benefits by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus 2% for four years, and to recalculate Local Housing Allowance, which determines housing benefit for private tenants. This will help provide families with financial security and protect people from further hardship.
It also argues that changes to benefit levels need to be accompanied by wider reforms to ensure the benefits system as a whole provides people with the right support. This includes ensuring Universal Credit gives people enough to live on by reviewing areas such as the amount of money retained by working claimants, and deductions for those dealing with debts or repaying advance payments.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Our evidence shows that increasing numbers of people simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet. While a step in the right direction, increasing benefits by inflation will not go far enough to help solve this problem.
“The benefits system was created to support people in times of need. The government should show it's serious about meeting this ambition by properly investing in working-age benefits, and making sure fewer families are left in a downward spiral with no way to pay their bills.”
Notes to editors
- The full report Making Ends Meet: the impact of the benefits freeze on Citizens Advice’s debt clients is available here.
- In April-August 2019, 40% of the people the charity helped with debt who claim income-related benefits didn't have enough money to cover their living costs, up from 32% in 2016/17 financial year. This is based on an assessment carried out by trained debt advisors using the Standard Financial Statement tool.
- Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
- Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
- The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
- For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
- We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
- Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.
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