'This government will not sit idly by whilst there is a risk that some in our country might be set so far back they might never recover', said chancellor Rishi Sunak in the opening remarks to his statement this afternoon. But does this ring true? Did his announcements offer a sign of hope for families?
There were definitely things to welcome in the statement. Supporting families through the social security system is the right thing to do. It means support goes to those who need it most. It’s what the system is for. A payment of £650 is significant, although gives less support to a family with two children than uprating benefits in line with inflation would. Benefits are supposed to reflect your circumstances, so a lump-sum payment that doesn’t reflect your family size is less than ideal.
What is good is that families affected by the benefit cap will get the lump sum. They did not get the £20 universal credit increase, and have been increasingly struggling in the face of rising prices and wholly insufficient incomes. The cap has not gone up since 2013, it’s only reduced. The government must lift the benefit cap so that support reflects what people need.
If the benefit cap was scrapped, all families would see their benefits increase in line with inflation next April. The chancellor committed to this increase today. Inflation in September (which will set the rate at which benefits are increased next April) is likely to be in the region of 10 per cent, so this is good news for families.
Of course this can only be the start. Benefits keeping up with costs is the very least we should expect from a social security system, and that’s one that’s not been subject to cuts and freezes over the past decade as ours has. We know that the current crisis is just that for many families – just the current crisis. Before this, families already had nothing left to cut. Support is now far below what families need to live on. A one-off payment does not provide stability or certainty. It’s a temporary, partial solution to a long-term problem of inadequate incomes.
We do not think the chancellor has gone far enough to ensure families are not ‘set so far back they might never recover'. Nearly 4 million children are growing up in poverty. Poverty has long-term effects, on children’s education, health and life chances. But it is not inevitable. The government must restore support so that families have enough to live on.