Families on Universal Credit have been struggling with difficult debt issues since the start of coronavirus lockdown. Some two thirds of families claiming the benefit are having to borrow money to keep going, with 60 per cent having to take on credit cards or payday loans to cover costs.
A loss of income or increased costs of being at home has forced 70 per cent to cut back on food or essential items. An 86 per cent of those with children claiming Universal Credit say they are behind on rent or other essential bills or topping up electricity meters.
It’s taking a huge toll on parents, especially those who were already struggling with their finances before the crisis hit. Two thirds of those who took part in the research said that money worries were affecting their mental health – a quarter of them saying the impact of this was severe.
Before coronavirus affected the UK, 2.6 million families were on Universal Credit with almost 1.2 million of those being families with children. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, more than 2.3 million new applications from families claiming Universal Credit have come in since the beginning of the crisis.
The new findings released today come from research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children. Both are now calling for an urgent increase of £20 a week to the Child Element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit. They say this boost would help support around 4 million families and 8 million children with the money working out to £2.85 per child per day. This would cover breakfast and lunch and enable parents and carers to buy books or toys to help support their children’s home learning.
Acting Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Helen Barnard said:“The coronavirus crisis has shown us that as a compassionate society we want to support each other and protect each other from harm. As well as individuals performing extraordinary acts of public service, we have also seen the government intervening to protect jobs and to boost social security as a lifeline for millions of families.
“It’s vital that we build on this to ensure that the pressures on families with children in particular are recognised and acted on. Families are dealing with high costs with children at home and many simply haven’t got the income they need to weather the storm. This is taking a major toll on parents’ mental and physical health and damaging family life during an intense period for everyone.
“Providing an urgent uplift of £20 per week to families with children claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits can keep many from being pulled into poverty, especially where parents have lost work as a result of the pandemic.
“By taking action now, we can ensure that the human suffering of this tragic pandemic is not compounded by rising child poverty, damaging life chances and holding a generation back in the years to come.”