Covid accelerates poverty in low income families
Thousands of families across Scotland have to rely on charity help to feed and clothe their kids because of inadequate benefits.
Almost a third of Scots families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to rely on aid from the voluntary sector for kids’ essentials over the past two months, new research by Save the Children reveals.
Four in 10 low income families say they have been left even worse off as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 53% of those polled reporting that they’ve sunk into debt since the beginning of August.
Almost half (42%) of all those surveyed said they are in rent arrears or behind on household bills.
Research by Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in June found that 71% of Scottish families had to cut back on food and other essentials when the pandemic hit. The new figures suggest things have not improved for many families: 27% reported that they’re finding it even harder to afford food now than in April.
Save the Children is warning that the winter will be more difficult than ever for many families, with an inevitable rise in heating and other household costs, further restrictions and local lockdowns and the prospect of further job losses increasing the pressure on already over-stretched household budgets.
Less than half of those polled thought the UK government was doing enough to help low income families like them. This figure fell among those polled after the UK government announced its Job Support Scheme.
Parents surveyed spoke of the “shame” of not being able to provide for their children, while others worried their children were being set back because they couldn’t afford laptops or other learning materials.
Save the Children is calling for the UK and Scottish governments to provide stronger income lifelines for families.
The highest levels of poverty in Scotland are among families with young children. The charity is urging the Holyrood administration to explore avenues providing an income lifeline for school-aged children before the full roll out of the Scottish Child Payment in 2022.
This could include using local government channels such as School Clothing Grants or Free School Meals to get money to families.
Across the UK, the charity is calling for a ‘Winter Plan for Children’, including an urgent £10-a-week increase to either child benefit or the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit to help families through the winter.
Last week, it joined 49 other charities to urge Chancellor Rishi Sunak not to take over £1000 away from families come April 2021, when a boost to Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic will be taken away. If families receive £20 per week less April 2021 as planned, there will be a marked surge in poverty levels, they warned, at a time when the unemployment will be on the rise.
If these benefit cuts do go ahead, 29% of Scots families surveyed by Save the Children said that they might have to cut back further on food and a further 32% on other essentials.
Claire Telfer, Save the Children’s head of Scotland said: “With winter on its way and more job losses expected, things are about to get even more difficult for Scots families still reeling from the cost of lockdown. Parents tell us they’re barely surviving. They’re already having to go without meals or electricity when their money runs out, and many are worried that the cost of heating their homes through the winter will push them into even more debt.
“It’s just not right that parents are having to borrow money, sell their possessions or rely on charity to buy winter coats for their children. Our country’s safety net is supposed to help those who need it through difficult times. But families with children, many of whom were struggling even before the crisis, are being left – quite literally – in the cold.”