MORE than seven million children from low-income families will be affected by a four-year benefits freeze if the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill is accepted without amendment, the Children’s Society has warned.
The House of Lords made amendments to the Bill, three of which were rejected by the Commons on Tuesday. They included one from the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, to retain income-based targets on child poverty, which was rejected by 310 votes to 277.
The targets, established by the last Labour Government to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020, and change the way it is measured (currently a child is considered to be in poverty if household income is below 60 per cent of the average UK income), had been scrapped by MPs. A vote in favour of Bishop Butler’s amendment in the Lords last month, however, forced them to reconsider (News, 29 January).
MPs also rejected amendments 8 and 9 on Tuesday, which would have reintroduced the additional Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for workers.
The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said that a new system of measuring child poverty would be introduced to tackle the “root causes of poverty”.
In a new report, published before the debate, the Children’s Society urged the Government to reconsider its plan to freeze benefits, and called on MPs to agree a suspension of further cuts in support for low-income families, which could lead to yearly losses of up to £9000 for working families.
The report, The Future of Family Incomes: How key tax and welfare changes will affect families to 2020, warned that, while the introduction of a higher minimum wage might increase household incomes by 2020, any gain would be cancelled out by cuts in “key support” for many families.
These include limiting Child Tax Credits to the first two children in a family, and changes for claimants of Universal Credit, who may receive less, particularly young parents and families with disabled children claiming for the first time.
The Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said that low-income families were facing a “barrage of cuts”, and that, at the very least, the Chancellor should guarantee no further cuts in his Budget next month.
The Welfare Bill was opposed by Labour and the SNP in the three-hour debate.
The Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Debbie Abrahams, drew MPs’ attention to research in the Children’s Society report which suggests that an estimated 2.62 million working families, and 4.92 million children in working families, will be affected by the Bill.
If income-based measures for child poverty were abandoned, “an increase in child poverty would rise more steeply”, she said.
In a letter to The Times on Tuesday, more than 170 academics urged MPs to accept the amendments and “retain the indicators, keeping income and material deprivation at the heart of child-poverty measurement”.
The Bill is due to return to the House of Lords on Monday.