Cost of living: How much money you need to ‘live with dignity’

With the cost of living still going up, the number of people falling below the 'minimum income standard' is rising

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Commuters are silhouetted as they walk across London Bridge on February 3, 2020 in London, England. People returned to work today, Monday, after Britain's departure from the European Union last Friday, 31st January. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
How many Brits are living with dignity? (Getty Images)

What does it mean to live with dignity in the UK? According to researchers, it’s about having an income that meets the “minimum income standard” - enough money to pay all your bills while also stretching to a little extra.

With the cost of living on the rise, the number of people falling below this threshold is also growing fast - including millions of children.

Yahoo UK breaks down what you need to know in 10 points

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 23: In this photo illustration, a basket of shopping filled with produce used in a traditional Sunday roast dinner is being filled on October 23, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. The cost of a home-cooked Sunday roast for a family of four has reached its highest level in over a decade with inflation at 10.1%. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
News figures this week showed fresh food prices rose to 16.3%. (Getty)

What is this “minimum income standard”? It’s the amount of money you need to meet your family’s basic costs - housing, food, energy bills and clothing - plus enough to enjoy life too. That means being able to afford a trip to the cinema or swimming pool, for example.

How much is it? Last year experts calculated that living with dignity in the UK costs £25,500 for a single person and £43,400 for a couple with two children. With less than that, any unexpected cost could push a family into poverty.

Well, that’s more than I was expecting! The figure has risen in the last two years because of the cost of living crisis. The minimum household energy budget for the average family alone increased 154 per cent between 2021 and 2022, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

So are people on benefits getting that much? No. Even though the figure is used as the basis of the living wage - paid to staff by companies including Ikea and Aviva - the government doesn’t accept the calculation. And it doesn’t take it into account when working out benefit payments.

So that means people on benefits can’t meet their basic bills? According to a calculation by the JRF and Trussell Trust, families claiming benefits are now at least £140 short of meeting the real cost of food, energy and other basics.

Proportion of individuals in households below the Minimum Income Standard, 2008-09 and 2020-21. (JRF)

Does that include families with children? Yes. In fact, children are disproportionately likely to be affected. There are now 19 million people living below the minimum income standard, including almost 6 million children. In fact, 40 per cent of children are living in straitened circumstances.

Number of individuals in households below 75% of MIS (millions), 2008-09 and 2020-21. (JRF)

Who else is unable to live with dignity? People of working age are much more likely than pensioners to be struggling to meet the minimum income, with 29 per cent living below the threshold.

A cinema ticket is one thing, but how many people are facing extreme poverty? That’s also on the rise. There are now 7 million working age adults and 3 million children living in households with an income less than 75 per cent of the minimum standard. That’s one in five children at risk of deprivation.

The Trussel Trust has said need for foodbanks in the past 5 years has increased by 81%. (Trussel Trust),kids%20to%20do%20their%20homework.

How are they coping? Many are relying on food banks to survive. The Trussell Trust network distributed more than 2 million food parcels in 2021-22 - up 81 per cent in five years.

Estimated proportion of households falling below the the MIS after housing and childcare costs (AHCC) in December 2019, December 2022 and December 2024 respectively, by income vingtile. (NEF)

Will it get worse? Unfortunately that looks very likely. The New Economics Foundation think tank predicts that, due to rising costs, 30 million people in the UK - that’s 43 per cent of households - will not be able to afford a decent standard of living by next year.