It’s tough for the low-paid but there is help available

Government support and charities do exist for working families living on a knife-edge

Personal finance editor

The average working household is now forced to spend half their monthly income on food and bills. Frighteningly,  half of the 13 million people now living in poverty in the UK are from working households.

It’s no wonder that three-fifths of low-income workers say their financial situation has worsened in the past year. The figures come from money charity Turn2us which today is launching Benefit Awareness Month to target the two-thirds of hard-up folk who are not claiming the benefits or tax credits they may be entitled to.

Alison Taylor, director of Turn2us said: “The stranglehold on pay, underemployment and the climbing cost of living all show no signs of easing and any economic improvements are failing to reach the UK’s poorest people. More needs to be done to combat poverty, especially for those people in work. But help is available in the form of working tax credit and other welfare benefits and it can make a huge difference.”

What more evidence is needed of how much tougher it’s getting for those workers on low incomes? According to the research, nearly two-fifths say their outgoings now outweigh their earnings. 

And it’s getting harder than ever for people to improve their situation. With an estimated  1.4 million people in part-time jobs across the country – a figure that’s climbed 46,000 in the past 12 months – almost three-fifths say that even though they want to work more hours, they simply cannot get the jobs.

Meanwhile, one in four people said that they had actually  experienced a fall in their  income over the past 12 months.

The figures come after a series of reports published in the past few days have shown that people are getting into deeper debt difficulties. Last week, debt charity StepChange revealed that some  15 million are falling behind on bills and using credit to pay for essential costs.

It said those on low and average incomes, families with children, people aged between 25 and 39 and those renting privately, have been worst hit.

The charity’s research also suggested that millions of households’ finances are so fragile that they are weeks away from falling into a spiral of debt. Some 13 million people do not have the savings to keep up with essentials for a month if their income were to drop by a quarter.

That bleak outlook was backed up on Monday by Shelter which said that nearly 4 million working families across the country are living on a financial knife-edge with no savings at all.

This means that if they lost their job they could not afford to pay their rent or mortgage for more than a month.

In short, being pushed out of work through sickness or redundancy could quickly lead to them losing their home.  

Liz Clare, who is a helpline adviser at Shelter, said: “This research highlights the financial knife-edge that millions of us now find ourselves on – living month to month, pay cheque to pay cheque.

“Every day we see the proof that just one piece of bad luck, like a sudden job loss or illness, could tip any of us into a spiral that puts the family home at risk

“Sky-high housing costs and stagnating wages mean that saving is becoming a thing of the past,” she went on.

“Most of us simply don’t have enough money in the bank that we can rely on for long enough to get back on our feet. We need better government support to give families the short-term help they need to keep their homes if they fall on hard times.”

But according to Turn2us, there is government support – as well as that from charities – it’s just that a lot isn’t being claimed. This is partly out of pride because some people don’t want to take handouts or perhaps feel that they’ve maybe let their families down by doing so.

But it’s mainly because many simply aren’t aware of the financial help that is available. Swallowing pride or finding out about benefits or grants – and claiming them – can make a huge difference to those on a financial edge.

The charity says 85 per cent of current claimants in work said benefits have had a positive impact on their lives and helped with housing costs, bills and even avoiding debt.

For instance, there are grants and schemes offering heating assistance – from help installing energy-efficiency measures to taking money directly off the bill. 

“Our message is simple,” says Alison Taylor. “Being in work does not mean the end of help. 

“We want everyone to know they are not alone and to be aware of the support that is available.”

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