This week Marcus Rashford is featured on the front cover of Vogue after capturing the country’s support for the extension of free school meals. What made Marcus’ campaign so powerful was not numbers or stats but his story about the reality of day to day life growing up in poverty.
The overwhelming support for his campaign showed that the public expects more for children, and when made aware of the issues that the poorest children in the UK face, people want these issues to be addressed.
FREE SCHOOL MEALS IS A GOOD START
The extension of free school meals was a big step forward – but it’s only the start. COVID-19 is undoubtedly the biggest challenge this country has faced for a generation, and we must not forget the impact it will have on children.
Low income families with children were struggling to stay afloat before the crisis and are now being pulled under having to juggle rent, bills, childcare and other costs. That problem hasn’t gone away: our recent research found that families where at least one parent has become unemployed have lost around £50 a week – equivalent to a low-income family’s entire weekly food budget.
The Government’s National Food Strategy Review last week concluded that a Government that is serious about ‘levelling up’ must ensure that all children get the nutrition they need.
PARENTS ARE TRYING THEIR BEST
Parents on low incomes have to manage extremely tight budgets and are constantly just trying to do the best by their children, as mother and campaigner Emma highlights:
“I was made unemployed in March due to COVID-19, then in April I was benefit capped. It was devastating. I had just enough money to pay my rent - nothing more. I’ve been borrowing money from family members so I can feed myself and my daughter. I’ve also received one food parcel and had to make significant cut backs. It’s been hugely stressful.”
UNIVERSAL CREDIT IS A SAFETY NET
Financial support provided by Universal Credit is there ‘to help with your living costs if you are on a low income, out of work or you cannot work.’ If the amount provided isn’t enough to live off, then the social security system is failing to be the safety net that it is intended to be. And instead of keeping low income families afloat, they are pushed into further financial hardship and debt. This was recently been highlighted by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee who found that ongoing issues with Universal Credit are resulting in real harm to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Child poverty is not inevitable. There is another way, and there are some simple changes than can be made now to address it.
A LIFELINE FOR CHILDREN
That’s why we’re calling for the government to provide a lifeline for children - an urgent, temporary £20 increase to the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit. This is equivalent to £2.85 a day per child and would directly ease the pressure on care-givers and allow children to be children at this uncertain time.