Child poverty is not inevitable. In the past, child poverty levels in the UK have been significantly lower than they are today. They are lower today in many other comparable countries. Making sure every child gets a good start in life is the right thing to do and the smartest investment we can make as a country.
At CPAG we draw on our 50 years of experience and expertise to devise and promote solutions we know will lift children and families out of poverty. If politicians take the right action to address the causes of child poverty, no child need grow up experiencing financial hardship. This includes ensuring decently paid jobs; good, accessible childcare; and a strong social security system to keep people's heads above water and provide support when it's needed.
This is the action that needs to be taken:
We need the UK government to recommit to ending poverty as a national priority, with a comprehensive strategy and targets.
Most immediately the government should:
Scrap the two-child limit
The two-child limit restricts support in universal credit and tax credits to two children in a family, affecting third or subsequent children born after 6 April 2017. Scrapping the two-child limit is the most cost-effective way to reduce child poverty. It would lift 250,000 children out of poverty and mean 850,000 children are in less deep poverty.
Abolish the benefit cap
The benefit cap restricts the total amount of support a working-age household can receive from the social security system if they are earning less than the equivalent of 16 hours a week at the minimum wage or not in paid work. 250,000 children live in households affected by the cap. A lone parent with three children is now likely to be capped across most areas of the country, and can be left with as little as £44 a week to live on after paying housing costs.
Raise child benefit by £20 a week per child
Child benefit is a payment made to the main carer of a child, with an amount for each child they care for. It is not means-tested, but if someone in the household earns over £50,000 there is a charge to pay – the high-income child benefit charge (HICBC). Increasing child benefit by £20 a week would see 500,000 children pulled out of poverty.
Roll out universal free school meals across England
Free school meals refer to the midday meal provided to children across the UK. At the moment, a lot of this provision is means-tested, but in some areas, for some ages of children, there is universal provision. CPAG’s analysis shows that 900,000 children in poverty in England do not currently qualify for free school meals.
The administration of the benefits system must be improved.
Delays, over-zealous application of sanctions, and outright errors leave increasing numbers of claimants destitute and unable to feed themselves and their families.
- The waiting period for a first payment of universal credit should be reduced to two weeks.
- There should be rapid access to hardship payments, benefit advances, and other local welfare assistance.
- Officials should work on the presumption that claimants behave honestly, issuing fair warnings – a ‘yellow card’ – rather than imposing sanctions for minor mistakes.
- Staffing levels should be restored to allow advice and support so claimants can understand and meet requirements, and funding for independent advice is needed at both national and local level.
Childcare remains one of the most expensive items in the budgets of families with small children.
A new national childcare strategy should include:
- a high-quality, fully-funded model of the 30-hour free entitlement to childcare available to all families, regardless of employment status;
- increased support for children’s centres; and
- comprehensive, 8am to 6pm out-of-school and holiday wraparound childcare through extended schools.
We must end the growing impermanence of paid work.
The UK has relatively high employment rates, but an unstable labour market, putting UK households at high risk of moving in and out of in-work poverty.
- Part-time and ‘zero-hour’ contracts, temporary jobs and spurious forms of self-employment currently evade employment protection laws and contribute to these risks.
- To slow the flow in and out of impermanent low-wage work we need to ground workers in better-paid, permanent jobs, which would reduce the numbers in poverty at any one time.
- Attention needs to be paid to second earners. Extending universal credit work allowances to second earners would allow families to keep more of their earnings and escape poverty sooner through work.