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Nov 23rd, 2020

Universal credit not enough to live off: petition to reform now to avoid surge in poverty

By Becca McCarthy

Four in five people claiming Universal Credit do not have enough money to cover rent, food and bills 

65% have missed meals to cut down on food costs

100,000 sign a petition calling for the government to urgently review Universal Credit

Universal Credit should be a lifeline for the 5.6 million households across the UK who need it to simply survive from day to day. Yet, new research conducted by 38 Degrees with Universal Credit claimants shows that it simply doesn’t go far enough and people are left struggling.

The research with 1,904 people claiming Universal Credit, of which 37 per cent are new claimants since the coronavirus pandemic, reveals that for more than four out of five (84%) Universal Credit payments just aren’t enough to cover food, rent, bills and other essential living costs.  

The research reveals a worrying picture of people not being able to survive on Universal Credit; skipping meals, being behind on rent, and using credit cards – which could see them fall in debt;

  • 65% having missed meals to cut down on food costs
  • 51% having gone into arrears on bills or rent
  • 46% having used savings to pay for essential expenses
  • 44% having asked for payment breaks 
  • 34% having used credit cards to cover payments

And with the coronavirus pandemic resulting in an economic crisis, increasing job losses, reductions in salaries & working hours, and the end of the furlough scheme combined with increasing living costs, a four-year benefits freeze and increased cuts more individuals and families are, and will be, reliant on Universal Credit supporting them. 

Additional research for 38 Degrees, conducted by YouGov, reveals a widespread concern about future job losses in the next three months, with a fifth (20%) of British adults concerned about their own job, 43 per cent about a relative’s job and 36% about a friend’s job – similar  sentiments are felt across Britain , and across different age ranges. 

Nearly 100,000 people have already signed a petition demanding that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak urgently review Universal Credit to ensure people have enough money to survive, and to make the increase £20-a-week boost permanent.  

The research by 38 Degrees also found that 45% of those on Universal Credit would find it impossible to pay for essential living costs if the current £20-a-week boost is removed as planned in April 2021.

In six months (April 2021), the additional £20-a-week financial support introduced by the government to help low income families cope with the extra cost of the pandemic is set to come to an end. The curtailment of this boost, which is worth £1,400 a year is predicted to push an estimated 700,000 of the lowest income households into poverty– at the same time the UK is experiencing rising unemployment.

Cathy Warren, Campaign Manager, 38 Degrees says: “There is no doubt everyone is feeling the effects

of the coronavirus pandemic, but our research shows those on Universal credit are the ones who are really struggling, and will continue to feel the knock-on effects of the economic crisis. 

“Universal Credit just isn’t providing them with the level of adequate money needed to cover the basic day to day living costs, and it is extremely concerning that families are having to cut down on food and skip meals just to try and make ends meet. 

“The House of Lords Economic Affairs committee has already found Universal Credit not fit for purpose in its current form and has led to an unprecedented number of people not being able to pay their rent and having to rely on food banks. 

 “We are calling on government to do the right thing and review the current system, to make the current £20-a week boost permanent, reduce tax credit debt and ultimately support some of the some of the most vulnerable in society at a time of crisis”

A single person on Universal Credit (including housing allowance) receives around £680, and a couple with two children receives £1000, but can vary depending on age, income and housing. Of those surveyed by YouGov, 61% stated they would find it difficult to pay for their essential costs if they had to rely on Universal Credit.

To sign the petition, please visit

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/universal-credit-statistics
[2]  Research conducted by 38 Degrees with 1904 Universal Credit claimants
[3]  All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,621 GB adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 15th September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
[4] www.theguardian.com/society/2020/sep/30/cut-to-20-a-week-covid-boost-will-lead-to-big-rise-in-poverty-uk-charities-warn

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