Nearly 6,000,000 people across UK can't pay their bills
An estimated six million people in the UK were unable to pay at least one household bill in recent months as a result of coronavirus, a new study shows.
Citizens Advice, a network of 316 charities, found that one in nine people in the UK are behind on bills, with nearly a fifth of these people having to go without essentials including food.
Carers, key workers and those shielding during the pandemic were twice as likely to have fallen behind on bill payments due to the virus. Black people aged between 18 and 34, and those who are disabled, are twice as likely to be in arrears.
The research discovered 24% of parents and carers have fallen behind on their bills, compared to just 7% without caring responsibilities.
In the shielding group, 22% of people are behind on bills, compared to 6% who are not in the vulnerable group.
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And looking at key workers, 21% have been unable to keep up with payments, compared to 7% of people not working in frontline jobs.
Citizens Advice is calling on the government to provide financial support to those in debt in the form of a one-off or time restricted payment, with the costs of relief shared fairly between the government, creditors and individuals.
They say payments could look like grants, payment matching or government-backed loans, depending on the sector.
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘Protections put in place by the Government, businesses and regulators have staved off the worst consequences of lockdown debt – so far. But with these measures beginning to end, millions will now face the repercussions.
‘It is not right that people who’ve followed Government guidance by shielding, stayed at home to care for others, been forced to work less, or lost their jobs altogether should be the ones left facing a financial black hole.
‘Government and businesses must help them now. Financial support for those who’ve fallen into debt must be prioritised to free them from the damaging consequences of long-term debt and help strengthen the economic recovery.’
A government spokesperson said it was already supporting people with household bills through the schemes launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the start of the pandemic.
They said: ‘We have injected an extra £9.3 billion into the welfare system, protected 9.6 million jobs through the furlough scheme and provided additional support for mortgage payers and renters during the pandemic.
‘On top of this, we have already taken significant steps including raising the living wage, ending the benefits freeze and increasing work incentive.’
But shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds argued that ‘even before coronavirus hit, many families in the UK were living on the breadline and this report confirms that the crisis has only made things worse’.
She said: ‘A third of all adults had no savings going into this crisis and we now see that millions of families have been forced into debt.
‘Sadly the government’s action only risks making this worse. Rather than targeting support to where it is needed most, as Labour has called for, the government is insisting on a one-size-fits-all withdrawal that will plunge us deeper into a jobs crisis and force even more people into dire financial straits. They must change course.
‘Over the longer term, the government must look at why so many families lack financial resilience in the first place, tackling insecure jobs and poverty wages and providing a proper safety net by replacing Universal Credit.’
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