Families are seeing prices for basic goods such as heating, rent and food rise by £400 per month, according to a new analysis showing the severity of Britain’s cost of living crisis.
It found that low-income families with two children were among those worst impacted, seeing living costs rise at an annual rate of 13 per cent – much higher than the official rate of 9 per cent.
That is largely because they spend more on fuel and food, which have seen some of the sharpest price increases. Families on the lowest incomes are being hit harder and sooner than others, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said.
It comes as soaring inflation caused the value of benefit payments to fall to their lowest level since 1982. While inflation is expected to peak at 10.25 per cent later this year, benefits have risen by just 3.1 per cent after the government refused to bring forward an increase to universal credit payments.
That comes on top of the removal of a £20-per-week uplift to universal credit introduced during the pandemic, and follows a decade of real-terms cuts to benefits payments.
The JRF calculated what families would need in order to achieve the “Minimum Income Standard”, a measure developed by academics at Loughborough University.
It is based on items that the general public think are needed to achieve an acceptable standard of living. On that basis, the cost of basic food has risen by 9.3 per cent, significantly more than the official figure of 6.7 per cent. Childcare is also up 6.7 per cent, according to the analysis.
In cash terms, families are spending around an extra £120 per month on energy, £90 on transport including petrol and £65 on childcare, the JRF estimates.
Faith Angwet is among those who has been impacted. She has two children aged five and two. She is taking part in Covid Realities, a study by the University of York to document life on a low income in the UK.
Ms Angwet said it was becoming increasingly difficult to budget after cutting back in many areas and being hit with more price rises.
“If you have already cut the cloth to the point where there are no threads left, what are you supposed to do?”, she said.
Ms Angwet is juggling childcare responsibilities with study to become a teaching assistant. She receives universal credit but says it is a struggle to cover basic costs like rent and heating.
“Most of our money goes on bills and then the last two weeks of each month is very difficult,” she said.
“I use different schemes to get by. Sometimes the kids go to after school clubs where they will get some fruit or something like that.
Ms Angwet now visits food banks to ensure her children have enough to eat. “It’s very stressful,” she said.
Tayyaba Siddiqui, an NHS key worker who is also a single mother and domestic abuse survivor, said most of her wage goes out on the day it is paid in. “I think: how is this going to last 30 days?”
“I’m working and I can’t afford basic necessities for me and my 11-year-old son. He needs shoes for school and I need some shoes for work. I can’t afford both – which is more important?”
She said her mental health is suffering and she feels she has no family members in the UK who she can turn to.
“I think I am a strong woman but now for the first time I can’t cope.
“I can’t sleep at night. My salary has not increased, only the cost of living has increased. Basic shopping used to cost me £20, now suddenly it’s £35 or £40. That’s for milk, bread, basic things, no luxuries.
“Children can tell when their parents are worried,” she said. “Single parents are struggling, I am not the only one. There needs to be tailored support for different people’s situations.”
Matt Padley, senior research fellow at Loughborough University, said the latest figures showed a “dramatic increase in what households with children need in order to meet their essential needs and participate in our society”.
He added: “Particularly stark is the increase in the cost of home energy and this is set to rise even further later in the year. As a consequence of these increases, lots of households will have to cut back, making difficult choices about what to go without, and which of their needs to prioritise.
“Households in the UK in 2022 shouldn’t have to make these sorts of decisions.”