Cost of living crisis: Number of people going onto universal credit surges by 13% in three months

The number of people opening universal credit claims each week has surged by 13 per cent in the last three months, new figures show, as the cost of living crisis hits families across the UK.

Official data shows that on average 33,000 claims were opened between January and April 2022, compared with 29,000 the previous quarter.

Overall, 5.6 million people were on the benefit in mid-April, of whom 3.8 million were children – up 200,000 on November 2021, the data shows.

Campaigners warn that these children could be suffering the effects of the cost of living crisis because the government has failed to increase benefits in line with the rate at which prices are rising.

Inflation is currently running at 7 per cent and is projected to hit 10 per cent in the autumn – but universal credit was uprated by just 3.1 per cent last month.

New research meanwhile shows that an estimated 1.8 million families on the benefit are having to live on significantly less than they are entitled to because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is deducting debt repayments from their benefits at an unaffordable rate.

Ministers are being urged to scrap “draconian” deductions rules to stop families from falling into deep hardship as costs soar.

Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children, said: “Universal credit is the most powerful tool the government has to tackle the cost-of-living emergency.

“These statistics demonstrate that by increasing social security to match inflation, ministers could make an immediate difference to millions of the children most affected by the crisis. But so far, they’ve failed to step up and support families and children are paying the price. “

He said that families were telling the charity they were already struggling with the high costs of childcare and were now finding it hard to put petrol in the car and buy food, with some parents skipping meals.

“This can’t continue. The government must increase universal credit in-line with inflation to help hard-pressed families to get through the cost of living crisis, ”he added.

New analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group shows that an estimated 1.8 million households on universal credit are recieving less than they are entitled to due to automatic deductions from benefits.

These deductions can be taken for a range of debts including to utility companies, but most are to repay debts owed to the government itself. These include for historic tax credit overpayments or a universal credit advance, which claimants can arrange to get them through the five-week wait for a first payment.

Deductions reduce universal credit awards by £ 61 a month on average, but a couple-family with children with deductions at the maximum rate will see their income reduced by £ 131 a month.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity, said: “With soaring prices and working-age benefits at their lowest level for 50 years, families on universal credit are down to the bone.”

“Draconian deduction rules are making a dire situation even worse. Most people repaying a universal credit advance had no option but to ask for that money upfront but then repayments leave them struggling even further. The department must reduce the deductions rate now, to prevent more families from becoming desperate. “

It comes after a government minister prompted anger this week when she suggested that Britons struggling with the cost of living crisis should consider taking on more hours at work or moving to a better job.

Home Office minister Rachel Maclean said the government wanted to see people help themselves more in the long-term – arguing that they could use their local job center in a bid to boost their pay.

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