Almost 90% of UK households reported an increase in their cost of living last month as they were hit by escalating fuel, food and borrowing costs.
Putting further pressure on Rishi Sunak to increase his support for low- and middle-income people, the Office for National Statistics said a quarter of all respondents to its survey were struggling to pay their bills and 17 % had turned to loans or borrowing on credit cards. make ends meet.
Debt charities and anti-poverty campaigners said the figures were a shocking reminder that this year households are facing the biggest drop in living standards since the 1950s. Jack Leslie, economist principal at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said the combination of cut wages and rising costs meant the pressure on households was mounting.
The figures cover the last two weeks of March, before households felt the impact of April’s cost of living hike when the ceiling on household energy bills rose by 54% and health insurance contributions. national insurance increased by 1.25 percentage points.
The ONS said that while rising bills affected most households across the country, “they are more likely to disproportionately affect those in the most deprived areas”.
More than a third of the poorest fifth of households in England had struggled or very struggled to pay their usual bills.
“This [situation] is set to get worse, with the estimated number of energy-stressed households reaching 5 million this month,” Leslie said.
“Going forward, the government must do everything in its power to protect those who will be hit hardest – with support for low-income households a priority.”
Labor said the crisis facing millions of families meant Sunak would have to hold an emergency budget. He said his own analysis found the annual cost of running the country’s petrol and diesel cars had jumped £10bn since April 2021.
Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said the 5p fuel tax cut, one of Sunak’s key policy initiatives as Chancellor to mitigate the impact of rising prices, had been ” swallowed up by soaring fuel costs over the year.
She added: ‘The Government must draw up an emergency budget to tackle its cost of living crisis – and support Labour’s call to put money back in the pockets of workers.’
Haigh said Labor would scrap the recent National Insurance increase and introduce a tax on North Sea oil and gas producers that would generate enough revenue to cut around £600 off the oil bill. average household heating.
Commenting on the ONS data, Helen Morrissey, an analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said poorer households were likely “burning through their lockdown savings in a bid to meet their daily subsistence while others choose to borrow more to meet their needs.
She added that while many mortgage payers have fixed their borrowing costs in recent months, “those who rent will feel very exposed to further increases in the months ahead.”
Earlier this month, property website Rightmove said private rents were rising at a record pace and potential tenants outnumbered three to one for available rental properties.
Wages have risen in recent months but have not kept pace with rising prices as employers try to control costs. Last month, inflation soared to 7%, its highest level in 30 years in March, driven by the rising cost of gas, gasoline, food, shoes, furniture and clothing.
On Monday, UK manufacturers reported in the latest monthly survey that the cost of raw materials and energy were rising at the fastest rate since 1979. In turn, growth in the prices they charge consumers is rising at its fastest rapid since 1979, with further acceleration expected over the next three months.
The ONS said that among those paying energy bills, around four in 10 (43%) said it was very or somewhat difficult to absorb the higher costs in March, even before the last increase in the price cap in April.
Illustrating the widening gap between the poorest parts of England and the wealthiest as the cost of living crisis deepens, more than half of adults (57%) living in the most deprived places said struggle to pay their energy bills, compared to about a third of adults. (35%) among the least deprived.
Sunak claimed he was spending £22billion to ease the pressure on households, mainly through a 5p fuel tax cut and a reduction in gas bills via a £150 council tax rebate which has already taken effect and a reduction of £200 in October, although this is a loan which must be repaid over the following four years.