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Poorest UK families getting poorer thanks to Covid – report

Britain's poorest families have seen a deterioration in living standards since before coronavirus, child poverty campaigners have warned.
Families across Britain have continued to struggle financially during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit:

An overwhelming majority of low-income families in Britain are experiencing extra hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, child poverty campaigners has warned.

A report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found that 90 per cent of the country’s poorest families have seen a deterioration in their living standards since before the first Covid-19 lockdown in March.

Poverty in the Pandemic, published jointly with the Church of England, shows more than three-quarters of the families are finding it “difficult” or “very difficult” to manage financially, with issues such as the loss of jobs, rising living costs and extra caring responsibilities cited as reasons for financial hardship.

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As a result of the pandemic, nearly six in 10 said they are now struggling to cover the cost of three or more basic essentials, including food, utilities, rent, travel or child-related costs, while around half of the families said they now have a new or worse debt problem.

The report, based on a survey of 393 low-income families with children eligible for free school meals, also shows an increasing reliance on the social security system.

Alison Garnham, CPAG chief executive, said: “This report shows that things are getting worse for low-income families.

“Far from seeing signs of recovery, we are witnessing a rapid deterioration in family finances and gloomy future prospects, with long-term unemployment likely to hit many more across the UK in the coming months. The mounting financial and health pressures on parents are leading many to breaking point.

“For low-income families, Christmas has always been a difficult time. This year will be even worse – worrying about being able to feed their children and keep them warm can transform the festive season into one of fear and anxiety.”

A number of recommendations have been made by campaigners as a result of the research, with the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England calling for the £20 per week increase to universal credit and tax credits to be retained.

“This year will be even worse – worrying about being able to feed their children and keep them warm can transform the festive season into one of fear and anxiety.” – CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham.

The boost should also be extended to old-style “legacy” benefits, the authors said, alongside an increase in children’s benefits, an expansion of eligibility for free school meals and the lifting of the two-child limit and benefit cap.

The Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said: “As more people lose their jobs and become reliant on social security, we are seeing the inadequacies of the current system laid bare.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent a sharp rise in poverty and destitution over the challenging months ahead, starting with a commitment to retain the £20 per week uplift to universal credit and extend it to other legacy benefits.

“At this difficult time for us all, we must continue to remember those who are suffering most – not only by supporting local charities, but also by advocating for a more generous social security system and for the deep radical changes needed to tackle the underlying drivers of poverty in the longer-term.”

Ms Garnham added: “This would make a huge difference to families with children, and would show that children haven’t been forgotten as we tackle the aftermath of the pandemic in 2021.”

The research follows a survey published last week by Citizens Advice, which showed one in seven people have fallen behind on essential household bills.

The poll also reveals 60 percent of people with children report having already cut down on any regular or non-essential spending to ensure their family don’t go without, with those from black and ethnic minority groups more likely to have been hit.

Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The government has taken strong action to try to protect people from the worst of the immediate economic shock. Now they need a clear plan to protect people from the damaging consequences of long-term debt, and help strengthen the economic recovery.“

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond. That’s why we have raised the living wage, boosted welfare support by billions of pounds and introduced the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”