DEBT charity StepChange is urging the government to reassess its cost of living support for households ahead of the Spring Budget, as new polling finds that two in five (40 per cent), 21 million people, are struggling to keep up with bills and credit commitments, and six million have relied on credit to make ends meet in the last 12 months.

The polling, run by YouGov for StepChange shows that among UK adults:

  • One in eight (12 per cent), around six million people, have borrowed money to make ends meet in the last 12 months
  • Two in five (40 per cent), 21 million people, are finding it difficult to keep up with household bills and credit commitments, up from one in three (34 per cent) in September 2023 – an increase of 3.5 million people in just four months
  • One in four (24 per cent) have rationed heating, electricity or water to meet credit repayments in the last 12 months, up from one in five (21 per cent) in September 2023
  • People were also asked about their ability to cope should they be faced with an unexpected expense of £1,000. One in eight (12 per cent) people said they would not be able to cover any without turning to borrowing, rising to one in five (19 per cent) among single parents.

StepChange, alongside other charities, has raised the alarm about the Household Support Fund ending in March, which is a vital lifeline for households experiencing financial hardship, particularly if they are faced with an unexpected expense, or are struggling to cover essentials.

Elsewhere, while encouraging reports have emerged around energy bills dropping from April, energy prices remain significantly higher than two years ago, and according to estimations from Ofgem, energy debt has reached a record £2.9 billion. StepChange has seen a similar trend of high energy debt among its own clients – between January and December 2023, average energy arrears increased by 28 per cent per new StepChange client.

StepChange says the Spring Budget on 6 March is an opportunity for government to extend targeted support for low income households whose financial resilience has been eroded by two years of the cost of living crisis.

Vikki Brownridge, CEO at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “In an election year, tackling such widespread problem debt and improving households’ financial security should be at the top of the agenda for current and potential new governments. We’re fast approaching a point where all measures brought in to support people with the cost of living crisis are due to end, yet as this research shows, managing the cost of essentials has become more difficult for people in recent months.

“We were disappointed the government has not taken forward the introduction of a social tariff in energy as we continue to see first-hand the pressure that high energy bills have put on our clients over the past two years. To give low-income households a chance of building up any financial resilience this year, we’d like to see energy debt written off for those who cannot afford to pay.

“Extending the Household Support Fund, the localised pot aimed to help households facing financial hardship, would also be a crucial step to arrest the alarming slide in many households’ ability to cope with financial setbacks.”

* Source: StepChange Debt Charity