SIX million children are living in households that do not earn enough to support even a basic standard of living, a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has concluded.
Nearly half the children in the UK live in households that do not make the Minimum Income Standard (MIS), the report suggests.
The MIS is a benchmark set by researchers at Loughborough University, who use surveys to put together a virtual basket of goods and services — the things deemed necessary to be able to live at the minimum “socially acceptable standard of living”.
By 2016, there were 18.9 million people (or 30 per cent of the population) in households with an income below the MIS: a rise of one fifth since 2008, when the JRF first began examining the benchmark.
But children are the most likely to live in a household that earns less than the MIS: about 44 per cent of under-18s in the UK — six million people — fall into this category.
If the child lives with a single parent, he or she is even more likely to be in such a household: 77 per cent of such children are living below the MIS benchmark.
“Over much of the last ten years, low-income, working-age households have been finding it increasingly difficult to manage, as their incomes have risen more slowly than living costs,” the report concludes.
The research suggests that, for a few years, starting in 2013, the likelihood of falling below the MIS began to decrease as real earnings grew and prices remained stable. But, by early 2016, the indications are that earnings had stopped growing and inflation had returned, meaning that frozen benefit payments did not stretch as far.
In this context, the Prime Minister’s promise to assist people who were “just about managing” remains a “huge challenge”, the report says.
The difficulty of living on the breadline is illustrated by anecdotes in the report. One mother said that she had to spend hours in the park with her children each holiday, since they could not afford any other leisure activity. Another mother reported that, when an unexpected bill arrived, she would eat only cereal for dinner for weeks until she could pay it off.
Another family relied solely on a hob and microwave to cook with for six months after their oven broke down; and a father spoke of the shame in having to ask his parents for a loan just to get by.
Parents describe “the ‘daily grind of being broke’ without any let-up or breathing space: constant worrying about the next bill affecting their sleep, their appetite, and their mental resilience”, the report says.
The Government must recognise that inflation eats away at people’s ability to achieve a minimum standard of living, it goes on, and end the benefits freeze, which has meant that most welfare payments have decreased in real terms.
Universal Credit should also be reformed, it says, so that families who receive benefits while also in work can keep more of what they earn, rather than have most of each pay cheque clawed back by reductions in their benefits.