The Tory Government has come under fire after a new devastating report found that nearly 700,000 people have been pushed into poverty by the Covid pandemic, despite Government interventions to protect low-income households.
The report finds that although actions by the UK Government, such as the temporary £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit, has helped to protect some 690,000 people, the same number have been pushed below the poverty line because of a lack of adequate help and support.
This suggests that support packages announced since the start of the pandemic have been insuffient, and legitimises recent calls by charities and others to strengthen the social security net.
The report from the respected Legatum Institute highlights how benefit changes, including an increase of £20 a week to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, and the suspension the Minimum Income Floor (which applies to self-employed people claiming Universal Credit), have insulated many families from the economic impacts of Covid-19.
However, it also highlights how many families have been left to fend for themselves, including an estimated 3 million self-employed people who are ineligible for support and those in receipt of legacy benefits who haven’t seen their benefit payments rise.
It also shows that increases in poverty in Winter 2020 have been largest amongst working-age adults, with an additional 640,000 people in this group now in poverty.
Recent benefit increases have meant that some groups have actually seen a fall in poverty. In particular, poverty amongst people living in lone-parent families has reduced by 100,000 people and for those living in workless families by more than 150,000 people.
However, this is overshadowed by the 690,000 additional people who are now living in poverty and whom may not have seen the same level of additional financial support awarded to other groups.
Baroness Philippa Stroud, CEO of Legatum Institute said: “Given the well-documented impacts that the pandemic is having on jobs and earnings for families right across the UK, it comes as no surprise that poverty is rising.
“However, our analysis shows that, at a time of crisis, Government action can protect many of those who are vulnerable to poverty, but it needs to have the right tools and the right information at its disposal.
“To ensure this continues as we begin to adapt to life after, or living with, Covid-19, there is a clear need for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy to be placed at the heart of the UK’s Covid-recovery response.
“That’s why we’re calling for the Government to urgently push ahead with its development of Experimental Poverty Statistics based on the Social Metrics Commission’s work.
“These measures shine a light on the drivers of poverty and the range of tools Government has to tackle it; from boosting incomes and promoting work to tackling mental health and supporting families.”
In total, it is believed that around 23% of households in the UK are now living below the official poverty line – a new record.
Commenting on the Chancellor’s refusal to commit to the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift, Joseph Rowntree Foundation director Helen Barnard said: “We should be proud of our country’s decision to protect those on the lowest incomes through our social security system — it’s the right thing to do.
“But it makes it all the more disappointing that the Chancellor has stayed silent on whether this lifeline will stay in place beyond April, leaving millions to wait out the winter in fear and uncertainty.
“There is no conceivable scenario in which this support will not be needed, and inaction risks a sharp rise in poverty.”
Commenting, the SNP’s Inclusive Society spokesperson, Brendan O’Hara MP told Welfare Weekly: “Last week’s Spending Review was a terrible missed opportunity to put money in peoples’ pockets and help struggling families – and lays bare this Tory government’s misguided priorities and attitude towards the most vulnerable in society.
“The Tories had the opportunity to prevent 700,000 people – 300,000 of which are children – across the UK from being cut adrift into poverty and hardship by making the £20 Universal Credit increase permanent, and extending it to legacy benefits. They chose not to take it.
“In stark contrast the Scottish Government has introduced the ‘game-changing’ Scottish Child Payment, which could support up to 194,000 children and the Child Winter Heating Assistance – an annual payment of £200 – which will support the families of 14,000 severely disabled children.
“In addition, the Scottish Government has made an unprecedented package of support available to support people and communities. Most recently announcing this week a new £100m Winter Support Plan – which includes £16m for a one-off £100 payment by Christmas for low income families of an estimated 156,000 children in receipt of free school meals.
“This weekend, the SNP also pledged that every primary school pupil will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch, all year round if the SNP are re-elected in May.
“The SNP’s Social Justice and Fairness Commission is also looking at a range of options to make an independent Scotland a fairer society with well-being at its heart – including looking at a Universal Basic Income.
“Scotland can do so much better than this callous UK government it did not vote for. If we had independence, we would not have this constant battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more people into poverty and Scotland could be a much fairer society – with the ability to expand its social security system based on dignity and respect.”