Steps taken so far to support low-income people, such as the emergency measures in the budget on statutory sick pay (SSP), employment support allowance (ESA), universal credit (UC) and the relaxing of the conditions that apply to some benefits, are all very welcome. We also welcome new support announced by the Chancellor through the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme – which will help save people's jobs. More support with housing costs will also provide reassurance for families worried about keeping a roof over their heads, as will the removal of the minimum income floor for self-employed workers in UC. The increase to the standard allowance in UC and basic element of working tax credit (WTC) will help to the tune of nearly £20 per week - but there is nothing more for families with children, despite them facing significant extra costs due to school closures. Food vouchers are not an adequate response. Read our briefing.
Many families will remain dependent on the UC system, and will struggle with delayed first payments and a cluster of design and delivery problems. Even with an adult rate of around £94 per week - which represents the biggest increase in unemployment benefits for twenty years and an improvement on the poverty levels we have become used to - many families will still experience hardship. For example, an out of work family with two children will still be 20% below the poverty line, despite the recent uplift.
Much more needs to be done to support families with children in this time of national crisis. As unemployment rises over the coming weeks and months, many more families will require support from the social security system to get by. This briefing focuses on the urgent changes that are needed to the social security system to ensure low-income families get the support they need.
As a priority, we are calling for:
- emergency support for families with children, with a £10 increase in child benefit as the top priority plus the removal of the benefit cap and the two-child limit;
- changes to universal credit and legacy benefits that will directly benefit families; and
- more money to local authorities so that local welfare assistance schemes are able to provide cash support.
Please note this briefing was updated on 25 March 2020.