We are all struggling to get our heads around the crisis that is unfolding. What we do know is that families in poverty will be feeling the economic effects most acutely.
We must not forget the children who will bear the brunt of their parents being left without work, or whose worlds have been turned upside down by not getting up for school or nursery each day.
The government has taken huge steps to help businesses and workers to stay afloat, as we all navigate the next few weeks and months. It’s hugely welcome that employers are supported to keep on their staff during this challenging time and pay their wages. This is not only good for business but will be a lifeline for many families anxious about the future.
But despite these positive steps from government, many families will fall through the gaps of this support. This will mean more children won’t feel secure in the knowledge that their family will be able to afford enough food to get them through the week, or that their mum will be able to keep her job. It will mean more children missing out on opportunities to learn.
That’s why Save the Children is calling for a Family Rescue Package. This is a practical set of measures based on our experiences of working with families across the country to help give families the stability they need through this crisis. We’re calling on the government to:
- Scrap the 5-week wait for payment for those on Universal Credit, by making advances non-repayable for those who need to claim it.
Advances are an essential support for people as they wait to receive their first Universal Credit payment. But the current loan system can mean families struggling with repayments for months. During this intensely challenging time, where we anticipate seeing a rise in the number of new claims for Universal Credit, advances should be provided to people as non-repayable, or repayments should be delayed for at least six months.
- Introduce a council tax holiday for 3 months to help defer unneeded expenses.
Along the lines of the mortgage holiday and support for renters, a council tax holiday – by taking away the pressure of a major bill – could really help families who are struggling.
- Increase the rates of statutory sick pay and extend eligibility to all employees.
This is something organisations such as Mind and Scope have long been calling for, and an increase is much needed to ensure families have enough to live on while many are not able to work.
- Support disadvantaged children’s early learning during this unprecedented time.
With schools and nurseries closed for the foreseeable, we all need to be thinking about how we support children living in poverty in their early learning. While many parents will be doing everything to support their children at home, we need to make sure those without access to online learning materials or the physical environment to support learning are not missing out even further.
Even before coronavirus, too many children were living in poverty in the UK. Sadly, during the crisis in which we now find ourselves, we are likely to see more children and families caught in poverty’s grip. Children’s early years are vital: experiencing poverty at a young age can have a lifelong impact, with long-term consequences for a child’s learning and development. We cannot let this crisis leave children to struggle: we must all do our bit to support those families on the lowest incomes.