When parents can’t work their way out of poverty

A stock image of a man and his daughter at home

A stock image of a man and his daughter at home

A stock image of a man and his daughter at home

As the end of each month approaches and the cupboards become empty, Jack* and his partner wonder how they are going to feed their three children.

They worked full-time, but when their third child was born and they found out she had spina bifida – where the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly – “that changed everything.”

His partner has left her job to become a full-time carer and now receives £63 a week Carer’s Allowance, while Jack works 17 hours a week as a supermarket delivery boy, taking home around £600 a month.

The family also receives about £1,200 a month in Universal Credit, £360 Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and child benefit. But with the cost of everything rising – from fuel to food to energy – they’re finding it a challenge to make ends meet.

Energy costs are a major concern for the family, but the biggest pressure they face comes from rising food prices. “It’s a struggle,” says Jack. “Obviously it comes in very quickly and goes out again because the kids are eating a lot.”

The family has access to free school dinners, which takes some of the pressure off, but at home they still sometimes find it difficult to keep food on the table.

“You do your shopping and they eat it out before you even had a chance and then you get to the end of the month and you think, ‘What are we going to give them?’ says Jack.

The family received a £326 cost-of-living payment in July 2022, but had to spend it on repairing their car, which they need to take their daughter to her hospital and physio appointments 100 miles from where she living.

Most of the disability benefits they receive are spent on fuel getting to and from appointments, Jack says, and their benefit entitlements are limited by the two-child limit, which means they don’t get extra child support for their youngest child.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently suggested that the best way to ensure children don’t grow up in poverty “is to make sure they don’t grow up in an unemployed household” and that job creation is “the best anti-poverty strategy”.

While that might work for some, an analysis of government data by the charity Action for Children estimates that there are up to 440,000 children living in poverty despite their parent(s) already working full-time.

In addition, single-parent families, families with young children under the age of two, and people with disabled children and/or parents are most likely to experience barriers to entry into employment, the study found.

And many children living in poverty live in families that experience more than one barrier to work, meaning that parents have even less chance of improving their situation simply by getting a job.

The charity is proposing to increase the Child Element of Universal Credit by at least £15 a week and abolishing the Benefit Cap could lift nearly 320,000 children out of poverty.

The benefit limit is a limit on the total amount of benefits that people can receive. Single parents with children and couples with children cannot receive more than £1,666.67 a month in benefits if they live outside London. While those in London can receive up to £1,916.67 in benefits every month.

Removing the benefit cap would help raise the incomes of those still living in poverty so that their experience of it is less severe, Action for Children suggested.

Both reforms combined would cost the government an estimated £4bn a year.

Action for Children’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: “To improve the lives and life chances of all children, we need to be honest about why so many are growing up in poverty and adversity. And we have to confront the myth that anyone living in poverty can just work their way out of it.

“Our findings show that when it comes to supporting families in financial distress, work is simply not the panacea it is often presented. We need more realism and less rhetoric from government in how we talk about the relationship between poverty and work.

“And we need a social safety net that ensures families can meet their essential costs and that reconnects a family’s needs with the support available to them.”

Earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation proposed an increase in universal credit of £20 per week, which was handed out during the height of the pandemic, to reduce poverty among larger families and young children. Unfortunately, the scheme was canceled in October 2021.

According to JRF research, about 7.2 million people are forgoing meals, showers and heating, and 4.7 million people are behind on their bills this winter.

A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We know the best way out of poverty is through good work, better skills and higher wages, and our network of Jobcentres continues to help millions, including parents, access flexible jobs and better paying jobs. functions through work progress support.

“The latest figures show 200,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty, excluding housing costs, compared to 2019/20 and we are supporting millions of vulnerable families with direct living costs, on top of the 10.1% increase in benefits in April.”

*Jack’s name has been changed to protect anonymity.


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