Socialist Worker

Poorer families abandoned during pandemic

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2719

Child with mask on

Child during pandemic (Pic: Sophie Howes, Rhiannon Monk-Winstanley, Tom Sefton, and Alice Woudhuysen)


Poorer families have been abandoned by the government to deep hardship during the coronavirus crisis. A new report underlines just how tough it has been for people on benefits and low pay.

Researchers from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England (C of E) spoke to parents who said they had been forced to sell possessions to protect their children’s quality of life. They found that 80 percent of poorer families surveyed felt they had become worse off financially since the lockdown began.

“I lost my job at the beginning of March and have been unable to find a new job as my son’s nursery closed. I am in more debt and struggling to pay bills and feed my son and myself,” said one of those surveyed.

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The CPAG and C of E researchers found that costs had gone up for many low-income families, who were having to spend more on food and utilities than before.

“We have had to cut down quite a bit, not have the diet we had before when I was trying to make sure that they get a balanced diet. I just manage whatever I can make, really.

“With fruit and everything being so expensive, you just have to get what’s affordable,” said one parent, named by the researchers as Ann-Marie.

Loss

Meanwhile, many had lost work either as a direct result of the lockdown or the loss of support such as childcare.

“COVID-19 has impacted us greatly. I can't work as I am at home looking after my children. Food prices have rocketed. My partner’s income has greatly reduced because the clients can’t afford to pay him… It’s been so stressful. Only just got Universal Credit but that’s not enough to live on.”

Another, named Claire, said, “I went round Lidl with a list and a calculator to try and get everything I possibly could at the lowest possible price. It has just meant worry and stress and anxiety, because as long as you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, it gives you strength to move forwards.

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“We haven’t had that. In terms of financial impact, it’s meant absolutely counting every penny.”

Another respondent said, “I’m trying to sell my things, my jewellery, so they [the children] can have their TV.”

The CPAG said it found many children who were eligible for free school meals in England had not been receiving them.

It called on the government to extend the scheme to all families in receipt of universal credit or working tax credit, with a view to bringing in universal free school meals for all children in the long term.

The charity also said ministers should “increase child benefit by £10 a week and add an extra £10 a week to the child element within universal credit and child tax credits” and “abolish the benefit cap, or at least suspend it for the duration of the pandemic”.

The full report is at bit.ly/CPAG0820


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