Child poverty report prompts calls from bishops to end benefits freeze

22 August 2017

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Desperate: parents out of work have only 60 per cent of the funds they need to care for a child. [photo posed by a model]

Desperate: parents out of work have only 60 per cent of the funds they need to care for a child. [photo posed by a model]

BISHOPS have lent their support to calls for the Government to end the benefits freeze.

They spoke out after the publication of a report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which warns that a combination of rising prices and a freeze on benefits — and in some cases cuts — was leaving families unable to meet the costs of caring for their children.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, described the report as “deeply disturbing”. The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, called for the current freeze to be reconsidered.

The report, Cost of a Child in 2017, estimates what the cost is of raising a child in the UK, based on the minimum income standard (MIS) — a threshold calculated according to what members of the public deem essential items for every family. The 2016 MIS calculation was £17,100 (before tax) for a single person and £18,900 each for a couple with two children.

The CPAG report estimates that families in which both parents work full time on the National Living Wage are 13 per cent (or £59 per week) short of what they need to give their children a minimum living standard. Lone parents working full time on the same wage are 18 per cent short, double the shortfall they faced in 2012. Couples and lone parents not in work face a shortfall of more than 40 per cent.

The report’s author, Professor Donald Hirsch, director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy, highlights the rising cost of living and the freeze on state benefits and tax credits. Most working-age benefits were frozen for four years in April 2016. This year saw a fresh round of benefit cuts, including the restriction of means-tested support to two children. Between 2012 and 2019, benefits will have risen by three per cent, while prices are projected to rise by 12 per cent.

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The report notes an increase in childcare subsidies and raises in the tax allowance and minimum wage, but says that these are not “proving adequate to reverse the effects of benefit cuts, partly because they are not well targeted on low-income families. . . Selective measures to help struggling families will not succeed in doing so if set against a backdrop of general and specific cuts in benefits, tax credits, and universal credit.”

“For the first time in post-war history, these cost increases are not being matched by increases in support given to families from the state,” Professor Hirsch said this week. For non-working families “the ‘safety net’ of means-tested support no longer merits this name”.

The chief executive of the CPAG, Alison Garnham, said: “Rather than prioritising tax cuts which help the better off, the Chancellor should use the Autumn Budget to invest in helping families with children. Ending the benefits freeze should be the first step he takes to rebalance the finances of ordinary families.”

Bishop Treweek said that there was “an urgency to recognise that low-income working families are taking a double hit due to the four-year freeze in child tax credits and other benefits. With rising inflation, it is time to reconsider this policy in order to protect the living standards of the poorest families.”

“We know that the first years of life are the most critical for the life chances of every child,” said Bishop Butler. “So this report is deeply disturbing. Another fresh look at how we support working families with children seems to be required.”

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