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:
Benefits must reflect need - a fundamental principle of the UK’s welfare state.
- After a four-year freeze on most benefits and tax credits, rates should be restored and then rise each year at least in line with inflation.
- Child benefit must rise by at least £5 per week for each child to make up for inflation since 2010 - otherwise it will have lost 23 per cent of its real value by 2020.
- The two-child limit on tax credits and universal credit will plunge a further 300,000 children into poverty, and push a million who are already in poverty further below the poverty line.
- The £20,000 a year benefit cap should be abolished as it denies the needs of large families or those in high-rent areas. Families earning £20,000 from work are already entitled to additional support through benefits and tax credits to maintain a decent standard of living.
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.
- Government plans to ‘test and learn’, so they need to act upon the early warnings evident in the roll-out of universal credit. This should be prioritised over the completion date, which has already slipped from 2017 to 2023.
Housing and childcare remain the most expensive items in the budgets of working families with small children.
Childcare costs have risen 42 per cent since 2008, twice the rate of inflation. 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;
- universal childcare places available for all two-year-olds;
- increased support for children’s centres; and
- comprehensive, 8am to 6pm out-of-school and holiday wraparound childcare though 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.
- 200,000 children would be kept from poverty in working families by reducing the taper rate of universal credit to 55 per cent.
- Attention needs to be paid to second earners, now essential to seeing families out of poverty. 100,000 children would be protected from poverty by extending universal credit work allowances to second earners, allowing families to keep more of their earnings and escape poverty sooner through work.