Bill struggles 'in sharp increase'

Gas The number of people unable to pay an unexpected bill has shown a sharp increase since the economic downturn, official figures have revealed.

Unions said that the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) report into the daily challenges faced by struggling families should act as an "urgent wake up call" to the Government.
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In 2007, just over a quarter (26.6%) of people said that they would be unable to cover an unexpected but vital expense, but by 2011 this figure had risen to 36.6%, said the ONS's Poverty and Social Exclusion report.

There are also rising numbers of people who are unable to stretch their finances to be able to enjoy a yearly holiday. Almost one in three (29.7%) people in the UK said they could not afford one week's holiday in 2011, compared with just over a fifth (21.4%) in 2007, said the report.

The report also showed that the share of the UK population which is unable to afford to adequately heat their home increased from 4.6% in 2007 to 6.5% by 2011, the latest year for which the figures are available. The proportion who cannot afford a car has gone up from 4.9% to 6.3% over the same period.

In 2007, 3.9% of people in the UK said they did not have enough money to regularly eat meat, a figure which had risen by one percentage point by 2011. The share of people in the UK who could not keep up with regular bills such as loan repayments, mortgages or rent has also crept up, from 8.5% in 2007 to 8.9% by 2011.

Analysts expect British households to remain under pressure in the coming months, with poor harvests also set to push up food costs. Figures on Tuesday showed that winter energy bill hikes helped keep the annual rate of inflation at 2.7% for the third month in a row.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the latest findings should act as "an urgent wake-up call" to the Government.

She said: "People have seen their living standards put under intense pressure over the last few years as bills have soared and real wages have fallen.

"This large rise in the number of people unable to afford unexpected emergencies like a faulty boiler or a leaky washing machine highlights the day-to-day challenges many hard-pressed families are facing."
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