The UK Government has been urged to reverse cuts to social security benefits that have plunged thousands of children and families into hunger and poverty.
In a new report released today, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) calls for re-investment in social security support for children and their families, describing rising child poverty as a “scandal” that must be addressed by reversing benefit cuts.
The report, ‘Universal credit: what needs to change to reduce child poverty and make it fit for families?’, offers a range of options to halt the rise in child poverty and details the impact of cuts on poor and vulnerable households.
It found that a modest package of re-investment in children’s benefits would lift 700,000 children out of poverty by 2023, when universal credit will be fully rolled out, and increase family income by an average of £1,000 per year.
This could be acheieved by removing the 2-child limit and benefit cap, restoring the child element in universal credit to its 2015/16 value, re-instating the higher payment for the first child in the family (as in tax credits), and uprating child benefit by £5 per child per week to reverse the impact of the benefit freeze – among other recommendations.
CPAG says this could cost £8.3bn, which the add is “a fraction of the total of social security cuts of almost £40bn per year by 2020”.
As well as calling for the restoration of the cuts that have prevented universal credit fulfilling its promise of reducing child poverty, the report also calls on the government to address the many design flaws and system errors that have blighted universal credit.
Eventually seven million working and non-working families – including half the country’s children – will be supported by universal credit.
The report outlines the major issues that need to be addressed if the government wants to build public confidence in its flagship policy. These include, but are not limited to:
- Remove the five-week wait by making advances non-repayable or moving from monthly to weekly assessment of entitlement.
- Increase the value of the disabled child element to the same level as in tax credits.
- Make support available for 100% of childcare costs to help parents work.
- Scrap the minimum income floor which penalises self-employed low earners.
- Pay childcare costs upfront and simplify the rules for reporting childcare costs.
- Allow claimants to show payslips or bank statements to prove their earnings, when the automated information from HMRC is incorrect.
- Reduce the use of benefit sanctions.
- Improve support for claimants without digital skills or computer/internet access.
Alison Garnham, Chielf Executive of CPAG, said: “Child poverty is rising on every measure and it is time for every compassionate politician from all parties to re-commit to taking action today.
“We all want to see the best possible start in life for the UK’s children, but instead the face of child poverty is getting younger as 53% of children (two million children) growing up in poverty are now under the age of 5.
“Work has not proved to be the route out of poverty it should be, with most (70%) of children growing up in poverty in a working family.”
She added: “Children have borne the greatest burden of cuts to government spending with the four-year benefit freeze and punitive policies such as the 2-child limit and benefit cuts – this is just not right.”
“If the government is serious that ‘austerity’ is now over, it needs to demonstrate this in a way that is felt immediately in families’ pockets.
“Re-investing in benefits for children and families would be a good first step, followed by annual up-rating.
“Bringing more families on to universal credit without restoring the cuts and fixing the numerous flaws highlighted by CPAG’s Early Warning System risks scaling up the errors, hardship and unintended consequences that are blighting the lives of so many families struggling to get by.
“The UK’s families deserve better.”