It’s time for children’s needs to be central to the UK government’s coronavirus response
Let’s make sure UK government are doing all it can to minimise the damage done to the youngest lives, says Becca Lyon, Save the Children | Credit: Save the Children
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that many of us – particularly parents and children on low incomes – continue to struggle as a result of the crisis because they’ve lost work, or they’ve been forced to reduce their hours.
As lockdown eases at different speeds across the 4 corners of the UK, we’re getting glimpses of ‘normal’ life again.
Suddenly we can meet a friend, get some sun in the park, and (sadly) we can hear the increase in traffic on the roads as people explore further afield – it’s taken me back to what life was like pre-pandemic.
And with this, conversations move to the future – how will we rebuild the economy, how will we ensure the NHS and social care are fully funded.
These are vital discussions our country needs to have, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that many of us – particularly parents and children on low incomes – continue to struggle as a result of the crisis because they’ve lost work, or they’ve been forced to reduce their hours.
Families just don’t have enough to live on right now
If your income taking a hit isn’t bad enough, weekly costs have also risen for many.
CPAG have reported that families are having to find extra money to cover higher energy, water and food bills (the ONS has reported prices on ‘essential items’ rose by 8% in April) as many of us continue to spend much more time at home.
And perhaps most soberingly, the Trussell Trust have seen a 122% increase in the number of children accessing foodbanks.
Here at Save the Children UK, the take-up of Save the Children’s Emergency Grants Scheme tells us a similar story: by far the most requested item of support through the scheme in the last few weeks has been supermarket vouchers.
To call a spade a spade, families just don’t have enough to live on right now.
Governments across the UK have taken huge steps to sure up businesses and people’s incomes, but there seems to be a lack of understanding about the pressure families – particularly parents with young children – are facing.
In fact, children, so far, have been missing from the conversation, their presence only felt when the debate shifted to opening primary schools and nurseries – a decision driven by a desire at Westminster to start getting the economy moving again.
Children, so far, have been missing from the conversation
It’s been widely reported that we’ve seen more than 2 million people making a new claim for Universal Credit since March. And when the Job Retention Scheme ends, many more families will need the support of the safety net to ensure children are heading to school later in the year ready to learn, and with a winter coat, rather than sharing Dad’s worry about paying the rent or topping up the electricity metre.
In this time, and in this context, we need to see three changes that will be quickly felt by families, and are straightforward for the UK government to do:
Boost family finances
The government has announced some welcome increases to benefits, but families with children need extra support.
To support families to cover these additional costs, government should increase the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit by £20 per week.
To ensure that all families see the benefit of these changes and the additional welfare support already put in place by the UK government, the government should also increase the level of the benefit cap. Without this shift, increases to support won’t be felt by some groups.
Those getting support through Universal Credit will need to wait five weeks to receive their first payment or take out an advance which they have to repay.
To give families a help hand, the government must urgently suspend all repayments of advances for at least six months, and work towards making advances non-repayable in the long term.
So, before we start to tackle all those future problems, let’s make sure UK government are doing all it can to minimise the damage done to the youngest lives.