THE charity Child Poverty Action Group has warned of a “significant deterioration” in living conditions for low-income families because of the coronavirus.
The charity’s report, Poverty in the Pandemic: The impact of coronavirus on low-income families and children, was published on Tuesday and written with the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council. The research was based on a survey of 285 families on low incomes whose children are eligible for free school meals, backed up by interviews with 21 families.
The report’s key finding is that eight out of ten of the families say that they are in a worse position because of the pandemic. In addition, nearly half (48 per cent) reported having a debt problem that was new or worse than before.
In all, 83 per cent of respondents report that the coronavirus has affected their ability to pay for food. Almost as many, 76 per cent, say that it has affected their ability to pay for utilities. Half (47 per cent) have struggled with housing costs, and 53 per cent with child-related costs, such as clothes and baby products.
Confusion about benefits is highlighted by respondents and in the family interviews. Most report problems with how benefits have been distributed, such as not covering basic living costs, delays and inconsistencies in delivery, and a lack of knowledge about where to get advice or support.
Half (48 per cent) report health problems, physical or mental, often caused by worries about money; 23 per cent say that they have experienced relationship issues.
The Child Poverty Action Group has recommended that the Government increase child benefit by £10 a week, extend free school meals to all families receiving universal credit or working-tax credit, and abolish the benefit cap to protect families whose employment has been disrupted by the crisis.
The Child Poverty Action Group’s chief executive, Alison Garnham, said this week: “The support we offer low-income parents just doesn’t meet the additional costs of raising children, and there was nothing in the Government’s emergency support schemes to correct this shortfall.
“Child benefit alone has lost five pounds of its value since 2010 because of sub-inflationary uprating and freezes. Reinvesting in children’s benefits and widening access to free school meals should be the priorities now to protect family incomes and to support children’s life chances.
“As the Government’s Covid-19 emergency support schemes are tapered away in the coming months, more help will be needed for struggling families who have lost jobs or taken income drops. Otherwise, they will have only more hardship on their horizon.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that it was “imperative that the Government does all that it can to protect families and children by implementing the practical recommendations in this report. We all must play our part.”