Almost half of low earners are cutting back on basics like food so they can afford the rent, a new report suggests.
Some 44% of private renters with the lowest salaries sacrificed food, clothing or leisure activities for themselves or their children to make ends meet, research by the housing charity Shelter found.
Almost a third cut back on clothes for themselves or their partner, a fifth on food, and 15% on their children's leisure activities for the 12 months ending July 2017.
In addition, one in ten low paid earners struggled to keep up with other bills, such as council tax or gas and electricity charges.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate welcomed the Government's recent investment in council housing but said the report, Fair Rent Homes: An Affordable Alternative for Hard-Pressed Renters, showed millions of renters were "only just scraping by" and also needed help.
She said: "No parent should have to choose between buying school clothes or paying their rent. But far too many families are feeling shame and anxiety as they are forced to make impossible decisions just to keep a roof over their children's heads.
"Despite slogging every hour they can, huge numbers of people are struggling to keep up with colossal private rents. And with next to no chance of getting a council home, they are trapped and are forced into dangerous debt."
Of 3,978 private renters in England aged 18 or over surveyed by YouGov, 612 were considered low-paid, with household incomes of between £15,000 to £35,000.
Shelter is calling for a "massive boost" to affordable housing over the next 10 years on top of the Government's pledge of £2 billion to fund affordable homes.
It wants the Government to invest in a further 500,000 houses which will be subsidised and have rents which reflect local labour markets rather than being linked to the housing market.
People who would benefit most are low to middle earners such as hairdressers, security guards and factory workers who the charity said were "essentially trapped" - unable to get council housing and priced out by market rents.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Affordable housing is a top priority for the Government. Since 2010 we have delivered almost 333,000 affordable homes but we want to go further.
"That's why earlier this month we confirmed plans for a new generation of council and housing association homes through a further £2 billion funding boost, bringing investment in affordable housing to over £9 billion."