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Cost of living

Unable to escape persistent hardship: JRF's cost of living tracker, summer 2023

This new research shows persistently high levels of hardship in the UK, with the numbers of low-income households going without essentials or in arrears not having budged in over a year.

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The impact of rising prices while having low incomes and no savings, especially for food has meant 5.5 million low-income households have had to cut down on or skip meals because they can’t afford food. Four million reported going hungry, and 2.7 million have reported having a poor diet because of the cost of living crisis.

Low-income households are struggling to afford their bills, with 4.5 million in arrears, and 2.6 million holding high cost credit loans with loan sharks, doorstep lenders, payday lenders or pawnshops. Given the economic outlook of inflation falling slowly and interest rates remaining high for some time, we are concerned about low-income households’ access to the lifeline of affordable credit, as 2.8 million have been declined loans in the last two years. We’re also deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing impacts of the crisis, with millions unable to afford a healthy diet, and those going without essentials more likely to need NHS healthcare services.

For low-income households on Universal Credit, around 9 in 10 are going without essentials for the third survey in a row, despite the usual uprating of benefits with inflation and temporary cost of living payments. These levels of hardship cannot become baked in as the UK’s new normal.

JRF is calling on the Government to implement an Essentials Guarantee, to ensure that, at a minimum, the basic rate of Universal Credit at least covers life's essentials and that support can never be pulled below that level.


  • Start the work towards introducing an Essentials Guarantee. This would make sure the basic rate of Universal Credit at least covers the essentials – like food, utilities and vital household items – and that deductions (such as the repayment of debts to the Government at unaffordable rates) can never pull support below this level.
  • Unfreeze Local Housing Allowance and, at a minimum, realign it with the bottom 30th percentile of local market rents.
  • Ensure that the Renters Reform Bill does not allow landlords to raise rents within tenancies to unaffordable levels for renters as a loophole to evictions.
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This report is part of the cost of living topic.

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