620,000 more families claiming Universal Credit, with parents fearing they will be forced to turn to foodbanks if £20 uplift is scrapped
Over 620,000 families with children have started claiming Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic, according to figures published today by the Department for Work and Pensions – a 51% increase.
With 1.8 million families with children now reliant on the benefit to make ends meet, Save the Children is urging the UK government to extend the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit – introduced last year to help families cope with the pandemic and due to end in April.
Without the additional £20 per week, it warns, many families will be unable to cope, and will be forced to rely on foodbanks or run up debts.
Reports of a possible 6-month extension also worry the charity. While an extension will provide some help for families in the short term, children and their struggling parents across the UK will continue to face the prospect of having their incomes slashed in a few months’ time – when unemployment is expected to peak. It is calling for the uplift to be extended by at least a year.
Two thirds of the families now receiving Universal Credit are single parent families. As around 90% of single parents are women, Save the Children is warning that mothers are likely to be disproportionately impacted if the £20 uplift is scrapped.
Rebecca, a single mum to one daughter who works for a charity, said Universal Credit “just isn’t enough to live off.” She said that losing the extra £20 per week would force her to rely on charity food parcels to feed her daughter.
"I'm already panicking about buying food. We're scraping around, and if anything we need more money. If they took away the £20 I would be back in a position where I wouldn’t be able to buy enough food … I’m not a frivolous person who spends money on nonsense -- I only use the money for food and heating. But when you’re literally counting every penny, even a bit of extra heating is a struggle.”
Aneita, a working single mum to one daughter, from London, relies on Universal Credit to top up her income. She said:
“The extra £20 means we can have two or three decent healthy meals a day and not just one because we have to make the food stretch. It’s the difference between being able to manage for yourself and not having to rely on a food bank. It gives you a little bit of leeway – a little bit of dignity.”
The UK's unemployment rose to 5.1% in the three months to December, according to official figures published today. Economic forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and others predict unemployment will peak later this year and remain very high for at least a year. This will mean even more families will be forced to rely on Universal Credit, Save the Children warns.
The charity is urging the UK government to extend the £20 uplift by at least a year, to give families the chance to get back on their feet after months of financial hardship caused by the pandemic. They are also calling for the uplift to be extended to families receiving so called ‘legacy benefits’, who have so far not been offered additional help.
Becca Lyon, Head of Child Poverty at Save the Children, said:
“Struggling families have seen their household budgets stretched to the limit by the pandemic, and they will continue to feel the financial impacts of this crisis for some time.
Parents tell us that, even with the extra £20 a week, they’re having to make impossible choices – skipping meals, running up debts, or relying on charities and food banks to feed their children.
“Our country’s safety net is supposed to help those who need it through difficult times. But instead of helping families to get back on their feet, we’re talking about taking over £1000 a year away from them during a pandemic.
“Providing support for only another six months just won’t cut it. The increase to Universal Credit in March last year was a clear recognition by the UK government that people who had lost work during the pandemic needed extra financial support. Yet as furlough ends, hundreds of thousands of people will sadly lose their jobs over the next few months and will need a helping hand. It is this very group of people that the UK government deemed necessary to help less than a year ago, and yet it now plans to take this lifeline away from them at the very time they will need it the most.
“The UK government must do the right thing and extend the £20 uplift for at least a year, to give families the chance to rebuild their lives and stop even more children growing up in poverty.”