Citizens Advice has warned that 1.5 million working people on Universal Credit could be pushed into hardship this winter if their benefits are cut by £20 a week.
The charity is anticipating a surge in families seeking its support as rising energy prices and higher living costs are compounded by the cut to Universal Credit.
Its latest research shows two thirds (67%) of working claimants say they’ll face hardship if the cut goes ahead. This includes struggling to pay their bills, getting into debt or being forced to sell belongings to make up for the shortfall in their income.
Around one in four working claimants - equivalent to 600,000 people - are worried they might not be able to afford food or other basic necessities like toiletries.
Citizens Advice says shop workers, nursery assistants and security guards are among those seeking its help because they’re worried about how they’ll manage over the winter.
Many will struggle to make up for the loss of £20 a week
Around 2.3 million Universal Credit claimants are already in work. A further 1.7 million are unable to work due to health or caring responsibilities.
Frontline staff at Citizens Advice say many people they’re supporting would struggle to make up the lost money by finding work or increasing their hours.
The taper rate - a reduction to your Universal Credit based on your earnings - means someone paying National Insurance and tax could have to work nine hours at the National Living Wage to make up for the cut.
“It’s our children that would suffer”
Oliver lives in Weymouth with his partner. He works three days a week in a restaurant and alternates working days with his partner so one of them can look after their school and nursery-aged children. Due to the cost of childcare, it would be a struggle for Oliver or his partner to increase their hours.
“If we lost that extra £20 a week it’s our children that would suffer. We’d really struggle to pay for their school clothes, equipment and swimming lessons.
“There's been a rise in the cost of things. Our food bill has gone up but our wages haven't gone up. I just don't understand why they’re taking away the money when things are already so hard.”
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“With energy bills set to rise and family finances already stretched to the limit, this cut is coming at the worst possible time.
“Shop workers, nursery assistants and security guards are just some of the people on Universal Credit seeking our help because they’re already struggling to make ends meet.
“The government has shown in this pandemic that it’s willing to support people through hard times. With a cost of living crisis underway, it must reverse the disastrous decision to cut this lifeline.”