Another day, another set of appalling statistics to quantify the hardship people are suffering. This time they’re stats from the Trussell Trust and show an 81 per cent increase in people needing support from food banks at the end of March, compared with the same time last year, and a 122 per cent rise in parcels given to children. We have welcomed the actions the government has already taken – to support those at risk of losing their job and the self-employed, and through universal credit and tax credit increases – but it’s clear that many people are still struggling and not getting the support they need. Families should never need to resort to food banks to make ends meet. As a country we can and must do better than this.
Alongside the Trussell Trust, the Independent Food Aid Network, Turn2us, StepChange, the Children's Society and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we are calling for a new scheme to support those who are facing hardship now. A Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme would ensure families have enough money to afford the essentials, and that no one is left behind.
What would this look like in practice?
We need an increase in the level of benefits that support families and help with the costs of raising children. Families have additional costs now that children are at home all the time, and very many low-income families are not getting support through the complicated and beleaguered free school meals replacement scheme (either because it isn’t working for them or they’re just above the eligibility threshold). We and many other organisations have called for a £10 increase to child benefit as the best means of getting extra support to families.
Repayments of any advances people are given when they first claim universal credit should be deferred – otherwise their universal credit payments will be less than they need.
The government should lift the benefit cap and two-child limit. We know that many people cannot work right now to escape the benefit gap given that businesses have had to close, children are at home and there’s little childcare. We are concerned about those who have lost hours so are now newly subject to the cap, and about those who will not benefit from any increases in support because they will be hit by the cap. And the crisis exposes how hollow the Government’s rationale for two-child limit is - given no one could have planned their family size based on foresight of a possible global pandemic.
And finally the government must ensure local authorities in England can provide effective crisis support to individuals and families to prevent them needing to use food banks.
We stand ready to work with the government to find a package of support for families that ensures everyone who needs support gets it, and that people are supported urgently and with dignity.
Our social security system is there for all of us. In good times and bad, no parent should ever need to rely on charity to feed their kids. It’s the right thing to do to ensure everyone has the help they need throughout the crisis and beyond.