Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group - Supplementary written evidence (FPO0100)

In response to the request from Lord Empey for our recommendations as to the most powerful interventions, our top four are given below:

 

1.       Restoring benefit rates to their levels pre-cuts and freezes.  As per our manifesto to end child poverty published in November 2019,[1] 3 urgent actions would lift 700,000 children out of poverty for a cost of £8bn:

a.       restore the child element in universal credit, including the higher element for first children, and increase child benefit by at least £5 a week because it has lost 23% of its value since 2010;

b.      lift the two-child limit, which will otherwise push 300,000 children into poverty and one million more into deeper poverty by 2023/24; and

c.       remove the benefit cap, which largely affects lone parents with young children who are least able to escape the cap through work.

 

2.       Providing nutritious free school meals (FSM), ideally to all children.  We recommend extending the entitlement to all children to increase the uptake of FSM significantly and reduce the stigma around receiving FSM, but if this is not possible then, as a minimum, extending the entitlement to all children from families that receive universal credit.  A CPAG study found that even when children are accessing FSM, at present the allowance at just over £2 is not providing a sustaining and nutritious meal, particularly for older children.[2]  Therefore we would recommend that provision must be made for all schools to provide at least one free nutritious meal to all children.

 

3.       We recommend the nation-wide expansion of extended schools.3  CPAG has 2 reports4 on extended schools which make recommendations as to how their provision could be improved/extended.  For instance, almost two thirds of non-working parents surveyed in the 2016 report stated that they would work if they could secure provision of convenient, reliable and affordable childcare, which extended schools could play a significant role in providing. In addition, the report of our London Project on extended schools with the GLA also provided a number of recommendations.5 We see extended schools as a preferred, universal option taking in all children and not marking them out as in need of special child-feeding projects: these services should not just be provided by businesses and charities in the form of holiday hunger projects and breakfast clubs. Extended schools have also been shown to improve educational attainment as they provide the kind of enrichment activities which better-off families already pay for. It also means a longer day and more sensible hours which would allow low-income families more opportunities to work.

 

4.       We also agree that local welfare assistance schemes need to be radically re-modelled along the lines of the system in Scotland for example providing grants rather than loans and with a right of

appeal for refusals.  For example, the Trussell Trust reports the five week wait before receiving Universal Credit is a key driver of food bank use[3] since those in poverty rarely have the reserves to be able to deal with delays in income. As detailed in our November 2019 manifesto, we believe in the need for an effective social security system that responds to life events (such as having a child, or becoming unwell) as well as providing a minimum level of income security at all times:7 we believe the ability of local welfare assistance schemes to deal with the specific circumstances of low-income families in their community is paramount. We will shortly start a new initiative around ending the need for foodbanks, including through reforming local welfare assistance schemes, with funding from Standard Life, on which we could send you further information.

 

 

In addition to the recommendations above, we would also recommend the following.

 

5.       Building an economy that produces well-paid jobs at sufficient hours to address the rising trend of in-work poverty.  According to DWP figures, 70 per cent of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one person works8 and evidence indicates that child poverty rates fall significantly where both partners in a couple work (in effect, you need at least one and a half workers in the family to begin to address poverty) as illustrated in Table 1 below.

 

Table 1: From HBAI (Households Below Average Income) statistics 2017/18 (BHC=before housing costs and AHC = after housing costs):

 

 

Percentage of children in poverty by economic status

 

60% median income - BHC

60% median income - AHC

 

 

 

Lone parent families:

31

47

In f-t work

23

30

In p-t work

16

35

Not working

51

70

 

 

 

Couples:

19

25

Self-employed

26

29

Both in f-t work

5

7

One f-t, one p-t

8

11

One in f-t work

27

37

One or more working p-t

51

66

No-one working

64

75

 

 

For lone working parent families there is a drastic and growing income shortfall our evidence shows even those lone parents earning the average national wage cannot reach a minimum acceptable living standard.[4] At present there is limited help offered to lone parents who want to

expand their working hours but have complex challenges to navigate to do so such as arranging and paying for suitable child care, locating work that pays more than minimum wage levels, and negotiating access to additional working hours if they are available.  CPAG is just starting a new initiative ‘Your Work, Your Way’ with funding from Barclays, to explore a range of support mechanisms (including for parents who want to be able to increase their working hours.  We could send you further information on this initiative if this is of interest.

 

6.       We have a number recommendations for reforming Universal Credit as detailed in our ‘Universal Credit: what needs to change to reduce child poverty and make it fit for families?’ report,[5] the key recommendations include the following.

a.       Remove the 5-week wait for a first payment. 

b.      Move from a monthly to weekly assessment of needs, allow people to average earnings over a recognisable cycle rather than having monthly assessments of earnings, and allow alternative evidence of earnings to be used when the real-time information feed is disrupted.

c.       Scrap the minimum income floor and surplus earnings rules.

d.      Ensure Universal Credit (or at least child related elements) is paid to the main carer by default, and make alternative payment arrangements available on request.

e.       Protect child elements from deductions.

f.        Increase the amount available for childcare costs, pay childcare costs upfront and simplify the rules for repayment of childcare costs.

g.       Reduce the use of sanctions significantly, particularly fixed term sanctions, and institute a system of warnings before a claimant is sanctioned for the first time.

h.      Abolish in-work conditionality in favour of in-work support.

 

 

In response to the request from The Earl of Caithness’s request for information about funding and our recommendations as to where best to cut current Government budgets or raise extra finance in order to afford these initiatives:

 

1.       We would recommend that the Government stops spending so much on raising the personal tax allowance it has cost billions and most (80%) goes to the richest half of the income distribution curve rather than benefiting the poorest.  The poorest also often earn much less than the allowance point so will not benefit at all if the rates are raised.  There is significant research on this from the Resolution Foundation and from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

 

2.       We would also recommend reforming taxation.  We will send a copy of our book ‘Let’s talk about tax’ and will also send a copy of our forthcoming book ‘2020 vision – ending child poverty for good’ which includes a chapter from our Chair Alan Buckle in relation to taxation (please note this book is not out for publication until 18 March 2020 when it will be launched at our ‘Vision 2020: ending child poverty for good’ event not for quoting at this stage).

 

3.       For an overview of our recommendations as to child poverty strategy, we will send the paper that our colleague Lizzie Flew has written for a forthcoming publication (not for quoting at this stage).

 

 

 

 

 

01.03.2020

 

 


[1] See https://cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/policypost/CPAG%20Manifesto%202019_0.pdf

[2] See  https://cpag.org.uk/news-blogs/news-listings/children-growing-poverty-endure-hunger-and-shame 3 According to the DfES, extended schools 'provide a range of services and activities, often beyond the school day, to help meet the needs of children, their families and the wider community' (DfES 2005: 7). 4 See https://cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/policypost/ExtendedSchools_April2018.pdf and https://cpag.org.uk/news-blogs/news-listings/extended-schools-failing-meet-parents-childcare-needs; https://cpag.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/report/unfinished-business-where-next-extended-schools. 5 For further information on this report please contact CPAG as it was not published externally but an electronic copy could be shared with the Committee.

[3] The Trussell Trust, 2018. The next stage of Universal Credit. https://www.trusselltrust.org/wpcontent/uploads/sites/2/2018/10/The-nextstage-of-Universal-Credit-Report-Final.pdf    7 See https://cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/policypost/CPAG%20Manifesto%202019_0.pdf 8 See Households Below Average Income, Statistics on the number and percentage of people living in low income households for financial years 1994/95 to 2017/18, Table 4.6ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2019.

[4] See https://cpag.org.uk/news-blogs/news-listings/working-lone-parents-face-drastic-and-growing-incomeshortfalls

[5] See https://cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/policypost/Universal%20credit%20%20what%20needs%20to%20change_0.pdf