Millions of Britons ‘unable to afford basics like toothpaste and period products’

More than three million people in the UK are unable to afford basic everyday essentials such as toothpaste and period products, according to a new report which lays bare the extent of the cost of living crisis gripping the country.

Shampoo and laundry detergent are among some of the other items now out of reach for Britons struggling to pay sky high energy bills and rising food prices, research by charity The Hygiene Bank reveals.

Last month the government stepped in to help cushion the blow of higher gas and electricity bills by announcing a freeze on unit costs, meaning that they will not rise above their 1 October level for two years.

Many families will continue to struggle, however, as wages fail to keep pace with soaring inflation and mortgages become more expensive due to rising interest rates.

The cost of living crisis, fuelled by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, is hitting the poorest hardest because they spend a higher proportion of their income on energy and essentials compared to better off households.

People on benefits, meanwhile, faced a real-terms cut to their incomes in April when payments increased by 3.1 per cent - based on the consumer price index rate of inflation in the previous September rather than the 9 per cent rate of inflation at the time the change came into effect.

In its report, The Hygiene Bank said that 3,150,000 adults (or 6 per cent of the population) in the UK are experiencing hygiene poverty. Disabled people are disproportionately affected, with 21 per cent of them saying they are unable to cover the cost of essentials.

Some 13 per cent of those affected come from lower-income households. 11 per cent are 18 to 34-year-olds, another 11 per cent from an ethinic minority background and 5 per cent of adults who said they are experiencing hygiene poverty are in work.

Three in five (61 per cent) of those experiencing hygiene poverty said that it has negatively impacted their mental health. It is also affecting families, with two in five parents saying their inability to properly wash their children is impacting confidence.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Imagine being unable to wash your child’s clothes or hair, or avoiding a job interview because you can’t afford laundry detergent or shampoo,” Ruth Brook, Hygiene Bank CEO, said.

“Imagine sharing a toothbrush with other family members or staying away from your friends and family because of the anxiety of not having deodorant or period products.”

She added: “This is the reality for an estimated 3.1 million people living in the UK today. And yet most of us are unaware hygiene poverty exists and do not understand the devastating impact it can have – causing depression, anxiety and isolation.”

Ms Brock added that the charity believes everyone living in the UK “deserves to feel clean” and vowed to use its report “ as a platform to push for meaningful change.

“We want to work with communities and business leaders, policy makers and the public to both get families the products they desperately need.”

The report comes as the Conservative Party becomes embroiled in another row over welfare policy, with Liz Truss, the prime minister and Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor, reportedly considering raising benefits in line with wages rather than inflation.

Pressing ahead with the move would effectively mean another real-terms cut to the incomes of some of the least well of people in society.

Sir Ian Duncan-Smith, the former work and pensions secretary and Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons are among those to have publicly voiced their opposition to the move.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday Sir Ian said “it doesn’t make sense” not to uprate benefits in line with inflation when trying to grow the economy, as Ms Truss has pledged to do.

Ms Mordaunt told Times Radio: “I’ve always supported - whether it’s pensions, whether it’s our welfare system - keeping pace with inflation. It makes sense to do so. That’s what I voted for before.”

Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, said a failure to raise benefits in line with inflation could result in a “national uprising”.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to making sanitary products affordable and available to all who need them and have delivered on our promise to scrap the tampon tax so that VAT is no longer charged on them.

“However, we recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments and saving households an average of £1,000 a year through our new Energy Price Guarantee.”

The spokesperson added: “Through our £37bn support package we are saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn, while all households will receive £400 towards energy costs.

“The Household Support Fund, which was boosted by £500million, is also helping vulnerable families in England to pay for essentials.”