Losing your job, needing to care for a sick family member, breaking up with your partner – everyone’s circumstances can change. When they do, the social security system should ensure no one goes without the essentials - but it doesn't.
How financial support systems, such as Universal Credit, that help people through difficult times should always at the very least protect people from going without life's essentials.
The social security system should be a public service that we can all rely on, instilling public confidence, with respect for the dignity of individuals at its heart. It should, as a minimum, ensure everyone:
- can afford essentials like food
- has a warm home
- has adequate clothing
- is protected from deep poverty and destitution
JRF’s mission, as part of a wider strategy to solve poverty, is to push for and speed up the transition to a new way of doing things, including a social security system that enables people to find routes out of poverty. This includes addressing how the social security system interacts with housing, jobs, health and care.
Not enough to cover life's essentials
We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet people in the UK are going without the essentials we all need to get by.
Everyone’s circumstances can change. Losing your job, getting ill or needing to care for a sick family member, breaking up with your partner (these are things that can happen to any of us). That’s why Universal Credit should offer support to anyone who needs it, but right now it’s not providing enough income to cover the cost of essentials like food, household bills and vital travel – with around 5 in 6 low-income households that receive Universal Credit going without life’s essentials.
The basic rate of Universal Credit should at least cover these main costs, with our research indicating that a single adult needs at least £120 a week to afford these essentials. However, Universal Credit is not currently set according to any independent calculation of the price of essentials, and its basic rate is only £85 a week for a single adult. Often people receive even less as they face deductions from their support which are automatically taken at unaffordable rates (for example, to pay off debts to the government).
Need for an Essentials Guarantee
Over half the people at food banks are facing these kinds of deductions at the moment they most need help. How can it be right that the very system which was created to support us when we face challenging times is pushing people deeper into hardship?
We can’t always deal with what life throws at us on our own, so we need to have a system that supports us to afford the essentials while we recover from setbacks. Universal Credit should, at a minimum, always enable people to at least afford essentials. That’s why we want to see the government implement an Essentials Guarantee. This would legally embed a protected minimum within Universal Credit, based on an independent calculation of the cost of essentials, ensuring that support could never be pulled below this level.
Guarantee our Essentials petition
Ahead of the next general election, we are calling on UK political party leaders to make sure Universal Credit protects people from going without the essentials.
Principal Policy Adviser