Four out of five benefit-claiming households are in debt, according to a new report, and nearly nine out of ten fear welfare changes will affect their health.
These are the shocking findings of a new study, Real Life Reform, carried out by Northern Housing Consortium, which follows people affected by benefit changes up to 2015.
Despite the government's denials that welfare now provides a poverty-level income, the report shows that two-thirds of people have less than £10 left each week after paying for food and basic bills.
More than a third have nothing left, suggesting that their ability to find work - which costs money in bus fares, stamps and internet connection - is likely to be reduced.
The result of this is that many fear for their health as the stresses of trying to make ends meet, and not falling foul of the government's hardening sanctions system, prey on them.
Jobcentres' roles come in for wider criticism, with many believing they are failing in their support into work, and others feeling 'demonised' for being out of work
The government's welfare reforms include below-inflation rises in all benefits, a cap of £26,000 on the amount a family can receive each year, housing benefit limits and cuts including the bedroom tax, and a one-week wait before being eligible for Jobseeker's Allowance.
When all of these changes are combined, it is estimated that the average benefit claiming household will be £1,165 worse off each year by 2015.
Some of those responding to the study already describe going hungry and not being able to feed themselves properly, and choosing between heating and eating.
Others fear their children will be bullied as they are more easily identifiable as poor through their clothes, meaning the effects of cuts are likely to blight whole lives.
The effect on communities is also feared, with many suggesting loan sharks were becoming more common and some believing that, as cuts bite, the physical spaces around them will deteriorate, shops will close and people will be forced to leave, with homes becoming harder to let as a result.
While two-thirds of residents were determined to stay where they were and pay the extra costs of the bedroom tax, a report by the National Housing Federation showed that thousands have already gone into debt since its introduction.