Coronavirus London: Charities seek more help against child poverty

Coronavirus London: Charities seek more help against child poverty

A group of more than 25 charities has asked the government for six additional measures to help children through the pandemic in the capital, where the child poverty rate of 37 per cent is the highest in the country.

In a letter to minister for London Paul Scully, who is the MP for Sutton & Cheam, the London Child Poverty Alliance (LCPA) seeks “emergency support” for low income families through adjustments to benefit entitlements, by covering more housing costs, making temporary changes to Universal Credit arrangements and enhancing the ability of local authorities to give help.

The letter’s signatories, who include representatives of localised and London-wide organisations, welcome what they call the government’s “fast response” to the need to protect jobs, provide Council Tax relief and widen housing benefit entitlements, but ask Scully to make the case for six further changes which would be particularly helpful to London’s poorer children. They are:

Increase child benefit by £10 per child per week for the duration of the pandemic, which the charities say would help around one million London children in all and make it easier for their families on lower incomes to manage their regular finances and pay for essentials. They also calculate that it would reduce the national child poverty by about five percentage points, and household poverty by two.

Convert repayable advances on Universal Credit payments into grants. Advance payments were introduced to cover claimants’ costs during the five-week period it takes for their claims to be assessed and payments made. The LCPA would like them made non-repayable, both to make it easier for claimants to meet the cost of living and to prevent new claimants being in position where they have to take on debt at the beginning of new UC claims amid uncertainty about the job market and the broader economic situation.

Raise Local Housing Allowance rates for the duration of the pandemic, so that fewer low income households are at risk of eviction for rent arrears at a time when many jobs are being lost and working hours are being reduced. With this issue in mind, the government has already increased LHA rates so that they cover up to 30 per cent of the average private rent in a locality. However, the LCPA wants them lifted further, to cover 50 per cent.

Remove the benefit cap and the two-child limit, measures which place a ceiling on the total amount of benefit that can be paid. Many London households fall foul of the cap due to the high costs of renting homes in the capital, placing additional demands on councils to assist them with finding homes they can afford. The cap is designed to incentivise looking for jobs, but the LCPA argues that in the context of a sharply shrinking London job market, the justification for it does not hold up. The “two-child limit” denies Universal Credit support for third of subsequent children born since April 2017. It is intended to encourage claimant parents to make the same financial choices about family size as those relying solely on earnings. But the LCPA says that many households with larger numbers of children will now be claiming benefits for the first time, having had their families under circumstances when losing their jobs appeared unlikely. The charities calculate that if the limit is not lifted, almost 100,000 London families, including 340,000 children will be affected “by the end of this parliament”.

End the “no recourse to public funds” restriction on migrants of uncertain status. Rowenna Davis has written about this issue for On London.

Help local authorities with resources and mechanisms to provide greater local assistance. A national £500 million hardship fund has been set up by the government, but the LCPA asks that this should enlarged if found to be inadequate. London Councils chair Peter John has expressed concerns about whether boroughs will be compensated for the extra financial demands being made on them.

Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the LCPA, said: “We need to put children at the centre of our response. As a nation, we are being asked to make huge sacrifices to protect the vulnerable and help the NHS. We want to ensure that children do not suffer as well, as a result of more working families being pushed into poverty.”

The full text of the letter to Paul Scully, together with a full list of its signatories can be read here.

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