A third of UK adults just £20 away from falling into crisis, warns Citizens Advice

New analysis from Citizens Advice has revealed the stark reality of people’s finances as they head into the new year. 

Research from the charity shows more than one in three UK adults (37%) say they’d find it difficult or impossible to cover even a £20 increase to their monthly outgoings. This equates to 17.7 million people in England and Wales. 

This figure is particularly high for some groups, including 58% for people in receipt of benefits, 57% for people on prepayment meters and 47% for people of colour. 

Last month, Citizens Advice supported record numbers access to crisis support like food bank referrals and emergency charitable grants. It warns that many more will be pushed to the financial brink in the coming months due to a triple whammy of soaring energy bills, inflation and interest rates. 

People resorting to desperate measures to get by

The charity’s new analysis found one in four people (23%) have spent more money on essentials than they’ve had coming in over the last three months, with many resorting to short-term fixes to get by. However, two in three (67%) reported they could only keep this up for less than six months without additional support.

Citizens Advice also found that overall, one in three (33%) UK adults has had to dip into their savings in the last three months to make ends meet. More than half of this group (56%) have either already run out of savings, or expect to do so within the next three months - further highlighting the need for additional support measures to help keep people afloat.

Worryingly 15% of UK adults have reported eating cold meals this winter to reduce their electricity costs. The impact on people’s mental health has also been profound with 28% of adults losing sleep each week over their financial situation. 

Intervention is key 

Citizens Advice says it is absolutely vital support continues to reach those on benefits and others struggling with energy costs. 

It is also calling for a clear plan from the government on how to target support to those currently just about scraping by, but who could fall into hardship as the cumulative strain of rising costs takes its toll.

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

“Millions of households are at financial breaking point: running down savings, going without bare essentials and turning to food banks to get by.

“We’re already seeing record numbers of people coming to us for crisis support and this research shows people simply cannot cut back any further.

“Current government support is a sticking plaster which is quickly being exhausted due to the increased pressures people are facing. 

“Without further targeted intervention, we risk another year of despair for millions of people."

Notes to editors

  1. Based on analysis of a representative poll of 2,000 adults (18+) in the UK conducted by Public First for Citizens Advice. Fieldwork conducted between Monday 5 December and Friday 9 December.

  2. When asked, ‘How easy or difficult would you find it to pay for an increase in your monthly outgoings of the following amount: £50 per month’, more than half (56%) of UK adults say they would struggle to shoulder this monthly increase.

  3. Additionally, of the one in four people (23%) who have spent more money on essentials than they’ve had coming in over the last three months, people have been making up the shortfall by: Dipping into savings (42%); Borrowing from friends and family (32%); Going without essentials like food (32%); Borrowing on a credit card or overdraft (26%); Delaying bill payments (24%); Pawning or selling belongings (21%); Using Buy Now Pay Later to pay for essentials (19%); Using a food bank to access essentials (11%).

  4. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  5. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free.

  6. Citizens Advice helped 2.55 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2021-22. And we had 40.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends .

  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 18,500 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.

  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.