Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is urging the Government to increase payments for children if schools close because of Coronavirus, to protect children in low-income families facing extra financial pressure and the loss of free school meals.
Ideally the payments could be made through a £10 per week uplift in child benefit for the duration of the pandemic. Alternatively, the payments could be made through universal credit (UC) – if the two child limit in UC and the benefit cap were suspended.
The charity is also calling for universal credit advances to be made non-repayable, so that low-income parents hit by virus-related hardship do not face an invidious choice of waiting five weeks for a first payment or beginning their UC claim with a debt.
Child benefit has been subject to freezes and sub-inflationary uprating since 2011. Half the recommended £10 per week increase would simply bring the benefit back to its 2010 value.
The charity says emergency support measures for struggling families should prioritise boosting incomes over handing out more food parcels.
Chief Executive of Child poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “We are in very uncertain times and the impact of the covid-19 coronavirus will place additional financial pressures on families who are already struggling to get by.
“Children’s needs will not be any less and, if schools close, many struggling families will lose the benefit of free school meals for their children.
“Many families will already have made a claim for universal credit and be waiting for their first payment to come through. Struggle may quickly turn to real hardship for many.
“The policy solution should not be to turn to the voluntary sector to boost food distribution projects, or to create new ones.
“As well as the loss of their dignity, families being forced into food banks are likely to increase the risk of infection from covid-19 and further its transmission in already vulnerable communities.
“Child Poverty Action Group is calling on the government to match the support it is providing to small business and boost the income of struggling families with children by increasing child benefit by £10 per week for the duration of the pandemic response.
“This is the best way to get money to families with children quickly as the infrastructure already exists and families will get the help they need directly to their bank accounts.”
“This would cost £127m per week, a substantial additional support package for the nation’s children, but less that the £2 billion available for cash grants for small business. Meeting the needs of families is no less important.”
Ireland has introduced a “COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment” for all those who lose work due to the economic downturn caused by the virus.
The Irish Government explains: “The payment has a simple one–page application form and will be paid for a period of 6 weeks at a flat rate payment of €203 per week for jobseekers.
“It is designed to quickly deliver a social welfare payment to the unemployed and provide income security during this 6-week period.
“Individuals applying for the payment will be required to apply for the normal jobseeker’s payments within this 6-week period.
“Once this normal jobseeker claim is subsequently received, the department will process these claims and accommodate payments at that time. This will involve backdating increased payments for certain customers.”
Ireland has also introduced an “Illness Benefit for COVID-19 absences” which is €305 per week for anyone advised by a Doctor (by telephone) to self-isolate or who has the virus.