Written evidence from Barnardo’s CLP0048



Barnardo’s is the UK’s largest national children’s charity. In 2021/22, we reached 357,000 children, young people, parents and carers through our 794 services and partnerships across the UK. Our goal is to achieve better outcomes for more children. To achieve this, we work with partners to build stronger families, safer childhoods and positive futures.  

To date we have published two reports on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people.[1] Our latest report, ‘A Crisis On Our Doorstep’ (March 2023), focusses on how we have supported young people during the crisis and highlights the main concerns of parents and young people. We have focussed our submission on this evidence. It includes:

We have focussed our response on Question 1 in the inquiry’s call for evidence: 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 Government’s cost-of-living support payments

We welcome the broad package of support provided by the Government to families throughout the cost-of-living crisis. For example, the Energy Price Guarantee and £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme for England, Wales and Scotland and later the scheme for Northern Ireland helped many families get through winter 2022/23. We welcomed the Government’s announcement in the Spring Budget that it would extend the Energy Price Guarantee by three months.[2] The Government’s cost-of-living support payments for 2022 and 2023 to 2024 are an important part of this package, particularly for low-income families and young people.[3]

We particularly support the automatic nature of payments to eligible people. Many of the families we support have become increasingly worried about rising costs. This is leading to deteriorating mental health amongst the parents and children we work with.

Automatically applying cost-of-living support payments to eligible people means that there is one less thing for families to worry about. This approach goes a long way to ensuring that eligible families at crisis point do not miss out on benefits they are entitled to because have become too worried or overstretched to research the support available or find the time to apply.

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?

Our research published in March included concerning findings that show families have been struggling with rising costs, during the period when cost-of-living payments have been available:

We are particularly concerned about families who have taken on debt in order to get through the winter period. One Barnardo’s practitioner in our report illustrated this concern:

“I am really worried that our families are putting themselves in immense debt over this period. They’re racking up rent arrears, they’re putting their gas and electricity meters into debt and are struggling to pay for food. I do believe that families are putting themselves in a longer-term situation where it’s going to be difficult to pull themselves out of.”

While the cost-of-living payments have helped many families stay afloat, our evidence indicates that the amount of support has not been enough to cover rising costs for some of the most vulnerable families.

Access to essential items

Another important factor is the scope of what is considered ‘essential’. For many families, food and electricity are only likely to be part of the picture. We are particularly concerned that increased costs means there is no money to set aside to replace or repair other essential items that are needed to raise healthy children such as bedding, clothing or essential appliances. For example:

A number of Barnardo’s practitioners interviewed for our report commented on the families they supported who were unable to purchase items such as a bed:[4]

“One of our workers got in touch as the family were all sharing a bed – the mother and the two children. The mother didn’t have anything for Christmas but we were able to put a referral in for gifts from the Salvation Army. We were also able to give gifts for Christmas and food vouchers. This helped with setting aside money she had hoped she might be able to use towards a bed as the family were pretty destitute.”

To address the crisis Barnardo’s has been providing immediate support to families in our services through our Children’s Emergency Fund, reaching over 5,000 children. We have used the fund to provide warmer winter clothes for children such as jackets, jumpers, hats, gloves, thermal tops and socks. We have also helped families buy school uniforms or better shoes for their children. We have also used the fund to provide furniture and appliances, including replacing broken or unusable items, such as bedding, cots, mattresses, duvets, fridges, freezers, cookers, washing machines, heaters, pillows, microwaves, pots and pans.

We are particularly concerned that government schemes designed to support families with essential items such as these are not functioning adequately. In recent years locally administered support funds, including Local Welfare Assistance schemes, have been underfunded and designed inconsistently and on a short-term basis, with the Household Support Fund (HSF) being the most recent funding allocated to local authorities.

The short-term nature of funding has not enabled local authorities to plan and deliver schemes properly. This has meant many councils have implemented restrictive criteria to limit spending, leaving many charities - including Barnardo’s – to fill the gaps.

Recommendation: The UK Government should commit to three years of funding to local authorities in England and devolved administrations of at least £1 billion per year for a permanent Household Support Fund.

Wider reform to social security

One young participant in our October 2022 report summarised our wider concerns:

If this government is serious about really getting a grip of this cost-of-living crisis, I think they need to look at the whole benefit system.[5]

There is strong evidence of a causal effect between household income and children’s outcomes.[6] For families on a low income across the UK, life has been getting harder as costs rise, while incomes from work and social security fail to keep up.

The two-child limit is now the single biggest policy driver of child poverty in the UK. It means that any parents having a third or subsequent child after April 2017 does not qualify for additional support through child tax credit or universal credit. Combined with the benefit cap, which limits the overall amount of benefits a family can receive regardless of need, these two policies particularly disadvantage children in large families.

Recommendation: The two-child limit and benefit cap should be reversed.

Under 25s and Universal Credit

Claimants of Universal Credit under 25 receive lower payments by virtue of their age, in a policy that reduces the living standards of younger people living independently by design.

One young participant in our March research told us:

I get paid £128 every fortnight in Universal Credit. Where I live the rent is too high for what they will pay so I have to put a lot of that money towards the rent. So I’m left with pennies. Trying to figure out how to make it work is difficult. In terms of Universal Credit for us, we’re under 25. A lot of us still in school, university, college. We shouldn’t have to worry about money so much when we’re still trying to sort out everything else in our lives.”

Recommendation: The Government should review Universal Credit to ensure that it is linked permanently to inflation and that the reduced payment level for under 25s is removed. In particular we want to see the Government review the level of support for care leavers aged 18-25 who are more likely to not be in education, training or employment but are expected to live independently from a young age.


May 2023

[1] Barnardo’s (October 2022), ‘At what cost? The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people’. Barnardo’s (March 2023), ‘A crisis on our doorstep: the deepening impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people in the UK’.

[2] Barnardo’s (March 2023), ‘Briefing: Spring Budget 2023 debates

[3] UK Government (May 2022), ‘Cost of Living Payment 2022’. See also, UK Government (March 2023), ‘Cost of Living Payment 2023 to 2024’.

[4] Barnardo’s (March 2023), ‘A crisis on our doorstep: the deepening impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people in the UK’, see chapter 3 on access to essential items.


[6] London School of Economics (2017), ‘Income directly affects children’s outcomes