Written evidence from Save the Children CLP0049


Save the Children UK (SCUK)

Founded in the UK in 1919, SCUK is now a global movement operating in over 100 countries, fighting to ensure that all children survive, learn, and are protected. 

In response to the cost-of-living crisis, we have scaled up our Early Years Grants Programme. In 2022 we delivered almost 2,000 grants to UK families, reaching 3,500 children. Through this programme and our work at children’s centres, in food pantries, and in conversations with parents, we have heard stories of extreme hardship: families hit by job losses and rising costs unable to afford the basics that they and their children need.

We recently raised our budget for this programme by 25% and handed out 1,723 direct grants to low-income families in the UK between January and November last year, reaching over 3,000 children. Parents told us about using the grant to buy things like cots and bedding for their young children, to do the weekly shop, to pay the heating bill, or to pay for some Christmas presents and food for their family. These are the types of things that should be guaranteed to families through the social security system. 

We have done a large survey of the parents of that received the grants as well as several focus groups at our partner programmes in; Sheffield, Smallshaw, Manchester, Feltham and Margate with parents who received our grants or who are in receipt of UC or other legacy benefits. The following quotes are from those focus groups

“The vouchers allowed me to purchase food especially fresh fruits and vegetables. This has really been a God send as I was only eating one meal a day and now I can have more. I felt empowered being able to buy things for my baby too and now adding a book and toys for us to play and have fun”

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 payments were a helpful lifeline to support those on low incomes through this crisis. However, there are two key issues with the payments; firstly, that they were paid for the lump sum and second they were paid at a flat rate.

Compared to the previous announcements made they were better targeted at those most in-need, and it was positive that the government recognised the social security system as the best tool for providing support to low-income families. 

However, there are some who benefited less than others. The key issue with the support offered through this package was that all support was at a flat rate, no matter the families’ needs. This has been a particular issue for large families. Children in larger families are already at greater risk of being in poverty – almost half (47%) of children in a family with 3 or more children were in poverty in 2020[1]. And rising food and energy bills have hit large families hard – they are likely to have more rooms to heat and keep light, and more mouths to feed. Despite the obvious difference in spending needs, a family living with several children received the same amount of additional support as an individual living alone. 

These payments have not gone far enough to cover the shortfalls families are facing due to the cost of living crisis. Families face increasing energy bills of over £1,200 a year, and the IGD has just reported that food inflation has reached a 45 year high of 19.1%[2]. This means that the government’s support has not been adequate – the payments cannot cover the increase families will feel in their spending on groceries and energy bills alone, before other costs like rent, transport and leisure activities have even been considered.

“Before, when I used to buy food for home, I would buy lots of food for £50, now it’s the same amount of food for £100.” Parent of two children

"My eldest has started asking more, ‘how much is that?’, ‘can we afford that?’ She’s only eight. The fact that she’s already asking about this means she must know. One week she wants something nice from the supermarket, but she knows she might not be able to get it." Parent of two children aged eight and one

Families we work with are having to debate whether they can afford to give their children a bath, are going without meals themselves to ensure their children are well-fed and are walking two hours with their children to appointments to save on the bus fare. The measures are welcome, but they have not gone far enough for parents who are already at the sharp end of this crisis. 

Whilst we welcome the cost-of-living payments, ad hoc support is not the best way to support families on low incomes. Parents we work with budget meticulously (and in advance), and having a higher set amount per week (like with the £20 uplift) will help them budget and support parents in the long term. Some of the parents we work with expressed frustration that the payment is being introduced as a ‘lump sum’, as it is likely it could get quickly swallowed up by paying off debts, or buying a new school uniform when the payment is made in late July. Lump sum payments are less helpful than extra support each week or month and fail to provide the consistency parents need.  

2. What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:

a) Passporting: Not already being in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, despite being eligible, and consequentially being prevented from accessing emergency support;


b) Cliff-edges: Not being in receipt of a certain means-tested benefit, because households failed to meet certain qualifying thresholds.

As mentioned, the key issue with the support offered through this package is that it’s at a flat rate, no matter the families’ needs or size. This is another example of the social security system as well as ad-hoc cost of living support not working for children and families – particularly larger ones.

Going forward, both the social security system and any further ad-hoc cost of living support need to take into account the greater and more complex needs of larger families in particular. As it stands, policy making in this space is punishing the children of larger families. Both the two child limit and the benefit cap are existing examples of this, and Save the Children wish to see both of those repealed.

"They give me like £200 and something for the whole month, just me, how can one person live off £200? I don’t get nothing for her [3rd child], I get £14 a week for her." [commenting on benefits]

We have also worked with parents that have moved off Universal Credit (UC) recently and therefore they didn’t receive any additional support. This was despite rising costs and dealing with the struggles of being a single parent. The UC cliff edge affects many families in this way; the cost of living payments is just one example.

c) Qualifying period anomalies: issues relating to the timing of benefit payments;

The fact that the support is offered in three lump-sum payments has been an issue for many. In a normal period, several thousand households start on UC per week. Because the support package was introduced through two large payments (rather than the previous support which was available as £20 per week), anyone who started on UC after one or both payments missed out on the additional support offered by the government. Families fall into crisis all the time, and parents we support have told us about a variety of situations that have led to a financial crisis; a relationship breakdown, job loss, loss of housing etc. Setting arbitrary cut offs for when these payments are made means that many families undoubtedly will have missed out on the support they need.

We also spoke to some parents who accessed our grant who were waiting to move onto UC because of their immigration status. This meant that these families - who really could have benefitted from this support - missed out on crucial help.

d) Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning; or

We didn't speak to any parents who had these circumstances.

However, this is an obvious flaw with the “lump sum” method which means that families could have missed out due to sanctions, slight earnings increases, or administrative errors where households were paid UC twice, as the payments were only made in three lump sums. It would only take one of these circumstances happening on the months these lump sums were paid for a family to miss out on a large amount of vital support.

e) Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate


3. How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost of living support?

These measures – while welcome – are sticking plasters. They were introduced because the social security system was not providing adequate support to families on low incomes. This should not be the model we rely on as a country.

The government needs to invest in social security in a long-term, sustainable way, to ensure that people relying on UC have enough to afford the basics and weather difficult times when they arise.  Parents tell us that the current social security system has not covered their basic costs for a long time and the current cost of living crisis is only exacerbating an already desperate situation.

4. Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?



The last few years have seen two major national crises which have pushed families to the brink. These, coupled with years of underfunding and cuts to social security levels, means that a moment of crisis can quickly tip families over the edge into deep poverty and destitution. Policies like the benefit cap and the two-child limit have severed the link between need and adequacy, and have disproportionately affected children, pushing more and more into poverty.

The cost-of-living payments were a helpful lifeline to support those on low incomes through this crisis. However, the fact that they were paid as a lump sum and at a flat rate meant that many families did not get the support, they needed in the way they needed it. Parents and families need consistent support from a well-funded support system. We should rethink working-age benefits to ensure that children have a fair start in life: the two urgent priorities are to end the benefit cap and the two-child limit.


May 2023

[1] Households Below Average Income, Statistics on the number and percentage of people living in low income households for financial years 1994/95 to 2019/20, Table 4_5db. Department for Work and Pensions, 2021

[2] https://www.igd.com/social-impact/economics/article-viewer/t/food-inflation-reaches-45-year-high/i/30739