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Call for benefit rise to help families struggling to feed children

Lana Clements
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Lana Clements

The government has been urged to improve the child element of Universal Credit and to do more for children worst affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

Action for Children provides a crisis fund to help families in financial difficulty. Applications over the last six months showed that nearly a third of families would have struggled to feed their children without help.

Almost a quarter of families said they were having to choose between eating meals or paying bills. And nearly a fifth were cutting back on good portion sizes.

The figures were consistently higher among families on Universal Credit.

Action for Children said it highlighted the impact of the £20 a week cut to the benefit amid the rising cost of living.

The £20 uplift was brought in to help families during the pandemic but was withdrawn in October last year.

In a survey of frontline staff at the charity, nearly three-quarters said the change to Universal Credit had impacted children and families they supported.

Many workers described parents skipping meals so their children had enough food or worrying about debts as they were unable to pay bills, the charity said.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “The worst pain and misery of the cost-of-living crisis is being felt by children in low income families, yet the government is refusing to target help for these children or accept that it needs to rethink its huge cut to Universal Credit.

“The levels of severe and persistent financial hardship our services are seeing are among the worst they can remember and are robbing too many children of the bright futures they deserve.

“Whilst our crisis fund can help to relieve some of these pressures, it cannot address the underlying causes driving rising deprivation or offer a solution for families bearing the brunt of this deep-rooted cost-of-living crisis.”

He added: “We desperately need a cross-government plan to reduce and ultimately eradicate child poverty in the UK, but we can start today by guaranteeing benefits keep pace with the cost of living and target help to children in low income families through a rise in the child element of Universal Credit. There is so much more our government can do in these tough times to prevent those with the least from continuing to suffer the most.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ending poverty and the latest figures show there were half a million fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2009/10.

“We recognise the pressures on the cost of living and we are doing what we can to help, including spending £22 billion across the next financial year to support people with energy bills and cut fuel duty.

“For the hardest hit, we’re putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families on Universal Credit, have also boosted the minimum wage by more than £1,000 a year for full-time workers and our Household Support Fund is there to help with the cost of everyday essentials.”