Written evidence from Dr Kate Andersen, Dr Ruth Patrick, Professor Aaron Reeves and Dr Kitty Stewart CLP0023

 

 

About the Benefit Changes and Larger Families research study

 

We are a team of researchers from the University of York, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics working in partnership with CPAG to investigate the impacts of the benefit cap and two-child limit on families with three or more children. The three year (2020-2023) mixed methods programme includes innovative, quasi-experimental quantitative analysis, descriptive statistics, and a programme of qualitative longitudinal research with 45 families who were affected by the two-child limit and/or the benefit cap. The parents were interviewed on three occasions between April 2021 and January 2023. The third wave of interviews took place between September 2022 and January 2023, at which point the participants had received at least one of the cost of living support payments. 

 

We are submitting to this inquiry as we have robust evidence relating specifically to the cost of living payments and how these have been experienced by larger families (those with three or more children). 

 

The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation under Grant WEL/43806,

but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the

Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org. 

 

1. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity? 

 

The cost of living support payments were very welcome. Participants subject to the benefit cap were very appreciative of the additional support, especially as they did not receive the £20 uplift to Universal Credit during the pandemic. However, many of the participants commented that the cost of living support payments were inadequate. The payments eased the financial burden of the cost of living crisis, but only for a very limited amount of time:

 

"I put a big chunk of that on the hot water meter, so that’s helpful, but it did also go very quickly."

 

"It made the summer holidays a little bit easier… but then towards the end of the summer holidays when the money ran out and things were getting back to normal it was like a slap in the face because like obviously that big chunk of money that you had then you haven’t got coming at this time now."

 

"It made shopping that month a bit easier but other than that it made, long-term it made no difference, it just meant I could go out and do a proper shop rather than sorta putting stuff back and, and things. But yeah, long-term no difference."

 

A key issue with the cost of living support payments was that they were paid at a flat rate and were not adjusted to household size. Therefore, they were not sufficient to meet the needs of larger families who inevitably have been one of the societal groups hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, due to their greater needs. 

 

Many of the participants had already been receiving reduced entitlement for a considerable amount of time prior to the increase in prices, in part due to the two-child limit and/or the benefit cap. This meant that when the cost of living crisis became especially acute, these families were already in a very difficult financial position. Consequently, many of the participants used the money to pay for items and to cover costs unrelated to the cost of living crisis. Of the twenty-six participants who shared how they spent the cost of living payments, only twelve participants spent the money on food, gas and electricity. A quarter of the participants used the cost of living payments to make debt payments. Other participants used the money for one-off expenditures that they had been in need of for a considerable time. For example, 'Khadra' explained:

 

"I can tell you what I’ve done with that as well. My son usually is sleep on a mattress in his room because his bed broke like a long time ago; and I bought him a bed with it."

 

While welcome, then, the cost of living support payments were insufficient and did not succeed in protecting larger families from the cost of living crisis. Families still reported experiencing severe financial hardship, including struggling to afford basic items including food, clothes and heating, and, amidst rising prices, many are rapidly incurring debt. This is also having a knock on effect on family members' mental health due to the constant anxiety surrounding inability to meet basic needs:

 

"My mental health has gone down because my mood has changed and I just feel like everytime I go to the children's centre to get an actual food bank voucher I literally, I just keep crying because I feel like I can't do a lot and also because of the gas and electric rising as well, I can't afford to like top up gas and electric." 

 

Overall, more consistent support that is paid at a higher level and takes into account household size is needed to protect larger families from the cost of living crisis. 

 

 

May 2023