Cost of living: Millions falling behind on bill payments as rising costs takes their toll

June 28, 2022

Kerry says she has £20,000 of debts and counting.

She is one of an increasing number of people for whom the cost of living crisis is not only making it hard to get by - but who are being plunged into the red or deeper into existing debt.

"I'm paying it bit by bit," she told Sky News.

"But I'll probably be dead before it's finished. That's life."

Kerry works two days a week as a health care assistant at a mental health unit.

We met her in the London borough of Kingston on her first visit to a food bank.

She said: "I'm not a lazy person. I work hard. I enjoy my job. I do get help from the government.

"But it's not enough. Because of the cost of living that's become very, very high. Every month you're getting deeper and deeper into debt, I mean, obviously, that is quite a burden to carry with you."

Kerry starts to cry, lifting her glasses to wipe away tears as she tells us how she struggles to explain to her 12-year-old daughter why money is so tight even though she is working.

"I don't always want to be telling my daughter I can't do it. The other time she was asking me 'mummy you keep saying you don't have money but you're working'.

"She doesn't understand. So it's very tough. The only way out of it is if people that are on low income get the help they need."

'A crisis we can't keep up with'

The food bank is run by the charity the Trussell Trust - which has revealed the most common form of debt now is to the government - with almost half the people they support having debt deductions for things like advance payments, which are issued while a universal credit application is processed, or council tax arrears taken from their benefits.

Paul Pickhaver from Kingston Foodbank said: "We're seeing an increase in people who perhaps felt like they're managing or just about managing.

"Now this thing is a crisis we can't keep up with."

New data by the charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows how debt is increasingly becoming an issue for people struggling with rising prices.

It surveyed low-income households - that's those in the bottom 40% - and found that 4.6 million households are behind on at least one bill.

It also found that in the last seven months personal borrowing has more than doubled and that 1.3 million households have used credit to cover essentials such as food.

Katie Schmuecker, Principal Policy Advisor at the foundation, said: "Our research illustrates the frightening year low-income families have had so far.

"Families up and down the country have been faced with a difficult choice. They could fall behind on bills, struggle to feed themselves or take on expensive debt at high interest.

"No one should be put in this precarious position. The government must stop lurching from emergency to emergency and get ahead of this problem.

"A simple thing they can do immediately to make a difference is to stop deducting debt repayments from benefits at unaffordable rates."

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A government spokesperson said: "We know people are facing rising prices due to global pressures, which is why we're providing targeted help of at least £1,200 to eight million low-income families - welcomed by the JRF - while supporting people to earn more, including a £300 a year tax cut in July and allowing Universal Credit claimants to keep £1,000 more of what they earn.

"We have both reduced the amount that can be taken through deductions twice in recent years to no more than 25%, and doubled the time period over which they can be repaid.

"This strikes a balance between people keeping the significant proportion of their payment and making sure priority debts are paid, such as child maintenance which is vital to parents raising children."

Read more:
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