Amid freezing temperatures across the UK, new analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlights that over 3 million low income families can’t afford to heat their homes to protect themselves from the cold.

A cold weather alert from the UK Health Security Agency says people at risk should try and heat the rooms they use most to at least 18 degrees Celsius, wear extra layers and have plenty of hot food and drinks to keep warm.

But JRF research, that makes up a report to be published next week, shows hundreds of thousands of households are struggling to afford all three essentials needed to keep warm.

JRF and Savanta asked 4,251 people in the bottom 40% of incomes how they were coping with the rising cost of living. The survey took place from 31st October to 25th November.

JRF says around 710,000 households are going without adequate clothing, food and heat because they can’t afford them.

It also found that 2.5 million – a fifth of all low-income households – are going without food and heating. This rises to over a quarter for those on the bottom 20% of incomes

Over 750,000 low-income households said they didn’t have enough money to provide warm clothes and heating for them and their families

Ahead of the cold snap, 4.3 million low-income households reduced their spending on heating

While the Government announced more support from April next year, on top of uprating benefits in line with September’s inflation rate, JRF says the reality is that it is not enough, even before this cold snap and highlights the current inadequacy of our social security system as a safety net in times of need.

Comparing these findings to JRF’s last report in May, we have found Rishi Sunak’s cost of living support package has not reduced levels of financial burden or material deprivation – it has merely kept levels the same overall, for those in the bottom 40% of incomes. But, for the bottom 20% of incomes, many things are getting worse.

JRF is calling for the government to make changes to Universal Credit so that the basic rate of support can never fall below a level that would result in people being unable to afford the essentials, including food, utility bills and basic household goods

Over 7 million households have gone without at least one of the essentials since June, the full report will say.

The report will detail the impossible decisions those on low incomes are faced with. One person told JRF things had become so bad they waited for the temperature indoors to hit 13 degrees Celsius before putting a storage heater on for an hour.

JRF found so many families are already in arrears on their bills, on average by £1,629 per household, that they would likely have to take on more debt to heat their homes to the level advised by health professionals.

2.4 million low-income households have borrowed money or used credit to pay for their bills so far this year.

Rachelle Earwaker, JRF Senior Economist, said:

“The Government must see that families won’t be able to get through the winter, on the current levels of support. For hundreds of thousands of households it’s not a choice between putting the heating on or not. Our research shows they can’t afford anything recommended to protect themselves from the effects of plummeting temperatures.

“We’re still experiencing historically high inflation, and the prices of essentials are still soaring. Energy bills, while capped, are still almost double what they were last winter. Housing shortages, rising rents and mortgage payments are overburdening budgets across the country.

“The dangerously cold weather on the horizon is cause for concern. People are being forced to wager their financial health and whether they can afford more debt, against their wellbeing without sufficient heat, clothing or hot food.

“The Government must ensure that they help everyone who needs it this winter and plug urgent shortfalls during such historically difficult times. Our basic social security level is woefully below the amount required. Without substantial changes, people will be unable to afford the essentials which so many of us take for granted.”


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