As ‘pandemic’ universal credit claimants receive first payments, Save the Children urges government to protect struggling families
With the first Covid-19 Universal Credit claimants expected to receive their first payments this week, Save the Children is urging the Government to increase social security entitlements to protect families who could be swept into poverty by the crisis.
The crisis has resulted in more than 1.4 million new applications for Universal Credit in the past five weeks, as those who have lost their jobs or seen their earnings reduced have had to turn to welfare. People applying for Universal Credit have had to wait five weeks for their first payment.
Depending on their circumstances, a typical couple with one child, both out of work, could receive around £1,530 per month in Universal Credit, or £1,760 if they have two children, according to estimates by Save the Children. A single parent with one child who is not working could get around £1,340, or £1,580 with two children.
Families interviewed by Save the Children were worried that they would be left with almost nothing to live on after paying for rent and other essentials. Having already struggled to cover costs during their five-week wait, some parents say they will have to go into debt to pay for food and other bills, or even resort to food banks to feed their children.
Save the Children is calling for an increase in the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit to prevent children going without food, heating or other essentials, and to ensure they can get online to learn at home. It is also urging the government to address the five-week wait for the first payment, where you can get an advance but it has to be paid back, by pausing repayments on advances for at least six months.
Emma, a single mum of one from London, was due to start a new job at a school when the pandemic hit but was unable to start work when schools closed. Emma has been told that she is not eligible for the furlough scheme, and is now reliant on Universal Credit to stay afloat. Emma said:
“I don't know exactly how much I’m going to get next month, which already makes it difficult to budget. But I’ve calculated what I should get and I know I won’t have enough to cover bills and essentials. Once I’ve paid the rent, I’m only going to be left with about £100. I’m going to have to use my overdraft to cover the shortfall, which will make things even more difficult.
“My daughter is at home all day so our costs are even higher. Electricity, internet – it all adds up. I’m supposed to get vouchers for free school meals but I’ve only received one in four weeks, so I’m spending more on food.
“I’m looking for another job but who knows how long this will go on for? Even when I do go back to work, I’ll be paying huge costs for childcare and what I get from Universal Credit just won’t be enough.”
Becca Lyon, Head of UK Poverty Campaigns at Save the Children, said:
“The government has already done a great deal to help businesses and families affected by the crisis, but lots of parents will still struggle to make ends meet – not good for them, and not good for their children either.
“Parents tell us they are facing extra costs for food, energy and other bills and essentials due to the crisis, and many will find that they are left with very little to live on after paying their rent and other bills.
“The social security system is here to protect all of us when we need it the most, but at its current levels, it's failing to provide the support families need to weather the crisis. We all want to support each other through this difficult time, and the government can offer a lifeline to those who need it by increasing the child element of Universal Credit, lifting the benefit cap and pausing repayments on advances so that families are able to make ends meet.”
Save the Children is launching an emergency response for parents and children next week, which will provide families living in poverty with essential items such as highchairs, beds and books, minimise further financial pressure on families who are already vulnerable and ensure continuity to children’s early learning.