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Charities demand for action for children during coronavirus crisis

03 April 2020

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CHARITIES have demanded action from the Government to help low-income families during the coronavirus crisis, after the latest statistics on the number of children in poverty were released last week.

The number of children in poverty increased by 100,000 to 4.2 million in 2018/19, according to government statistics published on Thursday of last week. The number of people living in what officials describe as “a relative low-income household after housing costs” rose by 500,000 to 14.5 million in 2018/19 — the highest since figures were first collated in 2002.

Charities are calling for urgent help through the benefits system.

The head of child poverty at Save the Children, Becca Lyon, said: “Even before coronavirus, our country’s safety net was failing too many children. The Government has already done a great deal to help families affected by the coronavirus crisis, but there is still more to be done.”

The director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said: “In the past week, some families have already got so desperate [that] our frontline staff are feeding them from their own cupboards. With so many families close to breaking point, we’ve had to launch an appeal fund to help those struggling to pay for basic essentials like food, nappies, and utility bills. We welcome the financial support announced last week, but the Government needs to go further and faster.”

The Child Poverty Action Group demanded increased incomes for those worse-off, including extra help for children through universal credit and an increase in child benefit of £10 per week per child.

Its chief executive, Alison Garnham, said: “We are facing a child-poverty crisis. To prevent rising child poverty leading to a longer-term public-health disaster we need urgent action to support struggling families and their children.”

The director of policy and research at the Children’s Society, Sam Royston, described the figures as “appalling”. He said: “They show that poverty is not just rising but deepening, with 600,000 more children pulled into severe poverty compared to 2010. This country is one of the richest in the world, and we are letting future generations down by failing to end child poverty.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said that the Government had already taken significant steps, including raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze, and increasing work incentives.

“All my efforts are currently focused on providing support to those affected by Covid-19, but we will not lose sight of our commitment to address and tackle the root causes to unleash potential,” she said.

The demands come after a similar call from the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, more than a year ago, that the Government “act with urgency” in “tackling the national crisis of poverty” (News, 25 January 2019). He was speaking in the House of Lords after the publication of the Social Metrics Commission’s first report on poverty in the UK, which was published in September 2018 (News, 21 September 2018). Figures in that report stated that more than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, lived in poverty in the UK.

At the end of last year, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said that levels of child poverty in the UK raised questions about whether we were still living in “Dickensian Britain” (News, 6 December 2019).

Listen to the Children’s Society’s chief executive, Mark Russell, talk about the challenges to charities posed by Covid-19, on the Church Times Podcast.

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