More than a third of UK adults would find it difficult or impossible to cope with a £20 increase in their monthly outgoings, as the cost of living crisis hits household finances.
Polling for Citizens Advice found that 37% of adults would struggle to find an extra £20, with 25% saying they would find it “somewhat difficult”, while 7% said it would be very “very difficult,” and 4% “impossible,” PA reported.
The charity said people were increasingly resorting to desperate measures to get by, for example by eating only cold meals. It supported a record number of people in December, helping them access emergency grants and referring them to food banks.
This echoes findings by StepChange, the UK’s largest debt advice charity, which told the Guardian that more people were using candles or not putting the cooker on “because they’re scared of the bills”.
January is usually the busiest month of the year for debt advice charities as bills arrive for the credit cards and other forms of borrowing that covered the cost of Christmas. But StepChange has already seen a big increase in demand in recent months, as inflation shot up to 11.1% in October before easing slightly to 10.7% in November, driven higher by a jump in food prices and energy bills, in part because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Citizens Advice survey, of 2,000 UK adults by Public First between 5 and 9 December, showed nearly a quarter (23%) had spent more money on essentials such as food, toiletries and energy, than they had coming in over the past three months.
More than two-thirds of them (67%) said they could only keep this up for six months or less without additional support.
A third of people said they had to dip into their savings in the last three months to get by, but more than half (56%) of this group said they had either run out of savings or expected to do so in the next three months.
This persistent financial stress is taking its toll on people, with 28% losing sleep at least once a week over their finances.
Around one in seven said they had been eating cold meals over the winter to reduce their energy costs.
Citizens Advice is urging the government to set out a clear plan on how it will target support to people who are struggling, or those who are currently scraping by but could fall into hardship as food and energy costs continue to rise.
The charity’s chief executive, Dame Clare Moriarty, 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.”