Some 34% of mothers and fathers said they often go without food for financial reasons, a study by the Living Wage Foundation campaign group found.
An overwhelming majority, 71%, admitted they worried about finances so much that it ruined daily life, while 55% said a lack of funds was the reason they cancelled social occasions.
The Foundation calculates a “real” Living Wage, one which it claims reflects actual living costs, is £8.75 an hour outside of London or £10.20 in the capital.
“Many are struggling to afford the basics and stuck in jobs that require them to work long, anti-social hours away from their children,” the Foundation said.
“Weak wage growth and rising inflation are squeezing household finances and forcing more people to rely on unsecured credit – with consequences for their relationships, happiness and health.”
The poll included more than 1,000 parents working full time but taking home less than £8.75 an hour outside of London or £10.20 in the capital.
The National Living Wage, set by government, is currently £7.83 per hour for those aged 25 and over.
Around 43% of respondents said they had fallen behind with household bills, while 29% racked up arrears with their mortgage or rent – with 22% admitting to relying on a payday loan to cover essentials.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found 84% of those surveyed thought a pay rise would make them happier.
A Government spokesperson said: “We increased the National Living Wage on 1 April, meaning full time workers will earn £2,000 more than when it was introduced in 2016.
“Poverty rates are falling while the employment rate is at a record high. One million fewer people are living in absolute poverty than in 2010, and we continue to offer tailored support to help parents into work so that more families can benefit from the opportunities that work brings.”