More than 2m households have missed a bill payment every month this year as people struggle to keep their heads above water in a “relentless cost of living crisis”, according to new research from consumer group Which?.
In June an estimated 2.1m households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or bill, according to the consumer champion’s monthly insight tracker. This figure has been above 2 million every month so far this year, it said.
The tracker, based on an online poll of 2,000 consumers, found the number of people in financial difficulty remains at a high level. Six in 10 consumers said they had had to make an adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials or dipping into savings – to cover essential spending. That figure is similar to April and May’s but much higher than a year ago, when it was about 40%.
“The prices of everything [are] rising so steeply, but wages and benefits are not. My wages have gone up by about £10 a week yet my petrol has gone up by £40 a week,” a 35-year-old woman on a low income told Which? researchers. “And the cost of a food shop feels extortionate. There’s no extra money coming in but the amount going out is increasing at an alarming rate.”
Rocio Concha, Which?’s director of policy and advocacy, said the tracker showed that a “relentless cost of living crisis is continuing to put huge pressure on household finances”.
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“These pressures are especially apparent among the most financially vulnerable – with around two-thirds of those on incomes of £21,000 or lower saying they’ve had to make at least one financial adjustment to cover essentials in the last month,” she said.
Most consumers across all income groups said they had made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the past month, but this was most common among households with an income of up to £21,000. However, 57% of consumers with a household income of more than £55,000 had made at least one adjustment.
The recent series of one-off payments announced by the government to help with the energy price cap increase in October will bring relief to many, but their success will be judged on whether they continue to reach the most financially vulnerable, Which? said.
“The government and businesses must ensure that targeted support reaches the ever-growing number of consumers struggling to make ends meet,” said Concha.