Gordon Brown has pleaded with the government not to go ahead with a £20-a-week cut to universal credit.
The former prime minister said: “It is not too late for the government to spare millions of people the choice between heating and eating this winter.”
He cited research showing that 3.4 million households – or 6.3 million adults and children – will not be able to pay rising gas and electricity bills this winter without cutting their food spending.
The research, by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and Dr Antonia Keung at the University of York, suggested that 840,000 people have fallen into fuel poverty this week following energy price increases on 1 October.
More than six million people are facing fuel poverty this winter, they added.
Mr Brown said: “The York research is yet more evidence that families still badly need the helping hand of government to get through, and beyond, this winter and this COVID pandemic.
“I have sent the research to ministers with a note asking them to urgently rethink this week’s immoral withdrawal of £20 per week to universal credit.
“It’s not the right way to save government money, coming on the top of the hike on fuel rises this week.
“It’s not the right time to abandon the families who need the helping hand of government the most.
“Sparing people destitution and enabling families to both eat and have heat is a very basic investment in our nation’s future.”
The increase was a temporary measure to help claimants get through the pandemic, but it is being phased out before 13 October.
The government has announced a £500m household support fund to help vulnerable families pay for things such as food, clothing, and utilities, but some wonder if it will be enough to make up for the loss of the universal credit uplift.
Another set of research found that half of those claiming universal credit were living with food insecurity in May and June, with 28.8% in situations judged as severe.
The report by Welfare at a (Social) Distance defined food insecurity as being when people’s quality and variety of diets were affected by a lack of money, for example, people unable to afford balanced meals.
Severe food insecurity was where people had reduced the amount they eat, such as by skipping meals, due to a lack of money.
A government spokesperson said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to universal credit was temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”