2.3 million will be pushed into the red by Universal Credit cut

  • Citizens Advice warns frontline services are bracing for wave of hardship this autumn

  • Dame Clare Moriarty: “Cut will be a hammer blow to millions of people”

New research from Citizens Advice lays bare the potential impact of a cut to Universal Credit this October.

A survey of over 2,000 people on Universal Credit shows more than a third (38%) would be in debt after paying just their essential bills if their benefits drop by £20 a week. This is equivalent to at least 2.3 million people. 

The figure rises to nearly half (49%) people on Universal Credit in ‘Red Wall’ areas.

The average shortfall for people tipped into the red would be £51 a month, increasing to £55 a month in ‘Red Wall’ areas. 

The figures come as frontline advisers say they are preparing for a surge in people seeking ‘crisis support’ this autumn. Citizens Advice warns a triple whammy of benefit cuts, rising energy bills and further redundancies as the furlough scheme ends will push families into hardship.

The charity has helped three people a minute with one-to-one advice on Universal Credit since the pandemic began. Nine in ten of its advisers say they anticipate an increase in people needing support from food banks if the Universal Credit cut goes ahead. 

‘We’re gearing up to provide more crisis support’

Charlie Young, Project Manager at Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, says:

“So many families we’re helping are just about managing to scrape by. Take away £20 a week and you push them into the red. It’ll be devastating.

“We’re gearing up to provide more crisis support if the cut happens. That means food bank referrals, fuel vouchers and helping parents of babies and toddlers get access to nappies and milk.

“This type of support is critical, but ultimately nothing can plug the gap that will be left in people’s budgets if that extra money is taken away.”

‘I would have to go down to one meal a day to make sure my son has enough to eat’

Shaun is a single dad from Northumberland and has a son in primary school. He previously worked as fisherman but has had to take time off due to health issues. Shaun is already struggling to make ends meet and is worried he’ll fall further into debt if his benefits are cut.

“My son is growing all the time, so he always needs something new but I just can't afford it. I’ve had to cut back and pay the bare minimum in bills just to afford his school uniform.

“I’m doing my very best to give him everything he needs but it’s a daily struggle. I just don't know how I'm going to cope. I‘d have to go down to one meal a day to make sure my son has enough to eat.”

Previous research by Citizens Advice shows the unequal impact of the cut, with people one and a half times more likely to claim Universal Credit if they’re in areas the government has targeted for ‘levelling up’. 

The charity’s frontline advisers have spoken of particular concerns about single parents being hardest hit by a drop in income given their essential outgoings.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“A cut to Universal Credit this autumn will be a hammer blow to millions of people.

“It undermines our chance of a more equal recovery by tipping families into the red and taking money from the communities most in need.

“The government must listen to the growing consensus that it should reverse course and keep this vital lifeline.”

Notes to editors

  1. ICM Unlimited polling for Citizens Advice, representative sample of 2,183 adults receiving Universal Credit, fieldwork conducted between 15 July and 2 August 2021. Survey respondents were asked the following question: ‘On average, approximately how much money do you have left for food and other costs every month after paying your housing costs and your recurring bills (council tax, energy and water, etc)?’ Respondents with £87 or less (the monthly value of the £20 uplift) will be pushed into a negative budget if the cut goes ahead. Figures from the survey were extrapolated to the population level using the DWP’s data on the total number of Universal Credit claimants.

  2. 365 frontline staff at Citizens Advice participated in the Network Panel survey in July 2021. 88% of respondents agree that people helped by Citizens Advice will need to rely on foodbanks if a £20 per week is cut from Universal Credit. 95% said single parents would be negatively affected by the cut.

  3. Citizens Advice has previously warned of a ‘perfect storm’ for families with an energy price rise set to coincide with the cut to Universal Credit.

  4. Between 1 March 2020 and 22 August 2021 frontline staff at Citizens Advice supported 519,463 people with one-to-one advice on Universal Credit. This is equivalent to helping more than one person every 20 seconds.

  5. 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.

  6. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.

  7. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  8. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.

  9. 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.

  10. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk

  11. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 to talk in Welsh.

  12. 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.

  13. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.