The government has taken some giant leaps in recent weeks to help those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We have seen the announcement of the Jobs Retention Scheme, support for self-employed people, and increases to certain benefits. As well as these headline-grabbing announcements we welcome some of the smaller policy changes which address some of the issues we raised, and will make a real difference to low-income families with children.
For example, the government: has agreed to suspend the collection of certain debts through universal credit payments; has made sure that many people claiming tax credits will continue to receive payments even if their hours drop or they find themselves out of a job; and is making sure many schools will continue to provide free school meals throughout the Easter holidays. All of these steps will help ensure there is more cash in people’s pockets at a time when many are struggling financially, and for families with children this will go some way towards helping them meet their children’s needs.
But there is still more to be done. Despite the measures announced by the government there is still very little to help families with the additional costs of raising children, when almost all children are now at home full time and many families are facing reduced incomes. This is why we wrote to the Chancellor, along with over 60 other organisations, calling on the government to add £10 to child benefit. Child benefit goes to 12.7 million children and is the easiest way to get money to families with children fast.
There are also other gaps in support. The government rightly acted quickly in the face of an unprecedented crisis, and the measures announced will help protect the livelihoods of millions of people. However, in acting quickly, there have been some groups who have been left behind and some policies that are not working as well as intended and we would like the government to address these.
This is why from next week we will be publishing a weekly briefing, Mind the Gaps, which will highlight some of the gaps in support that still exist for children and families, drawing on evidence from our Early Warning System. Issues that are already starting to emerge via the case studies submitted to us from frontline workers include:
- People claiming universal credit (UC) and experiencing difficulties with the claims process (e.g. problems with phoning the DWP, problems verifying their identity, problems for claimants who lack digital skills or for whom English is not their first language).
- People who are not eligible to claim UC, including students who have lost their part time job which they rely on to support themselves (and are unable to claim UC unless they have a disability or have children), people with no recourse to public funds, and those who are stuck in the UK or abroad because they are unable to travel.
- Self-employed people who are not eligible for financial support until June struggling to support themselves (and are wondering whether to make a benefits claim in the interim).
The coming weeks and months are going to be a challenging time for everyone. Low-income families were already struggling before the pandemic began and many more are struggling now - it is critical they get the support they need. Not only will this ensure they aren’t pushed into hardship during the crisis, but it will ensure children are not left behind and the effects of this crisis do not last into adulthood. The Mind the Gaps briefing series will draw attention to the urgent changes needed to make sure this happens. Check back next week for our first briefing.