27 January 2022
New research warns that the soaring price of food and rent, along with energy bills, is forcing families to choose between basic essentials such as food and heat, while growing numbers are being forced into debt and relying on food banks.
The research report, Covid Realities, is a two-year study by the universities of York and Birmingham and the Child Poverty Action Group documenting the lives of 150 low-income families with children during the pandemic. Ruth Patrick leader of the research programme said: “Our social security system is currently ill-suited to protect people from poverty, and to provide individuals with some level of security as they navigate what are often temporary challenges in their lives – for example, the loss of a job, relationship breakdown, parenting and care work or ill health.
“This was clear before the pandemic, but Covid-19 further exposed and highlighted just what it means when your social security system is simply unfit for purpose.”
Five key lessons from the new research include:
1. Families have nothing else to cut. The combined impact of life on a low income and the pandemic has left families with children struggling to get by, routinely having to make difficult decisions about where to cut back in order to make ends meet. As the cost of living continues to rise, families do not have anything left to cut.
2. The social security system is simply not doing its job – rather than providing security, which should be its core purpose at all times, it is driving families who are already struggling into even deeper poverty. This is exemplified by the government’s decision, against cross-party advice, to remove the £20 increase to universal credit (UC) in October 2021.
3. Poverty and everyday hardship are negatively impacting mental health. Endemic and sustained financial insecurity combined with the prolonged and ever-changing impacts of the pandemic mean that families on a low income are facing sustained emotional strain, which is
4. Policymaking and national conversations about poverty and social security can only be improved when we include the voices of those with lived experiences. More participatory processes and practices (such as paid consultations and evidence gathering) will strengthen our understanding of the problems, and also lead us to solutions grounded in the everyday realities of what needs to change and why.
5. We develop better policy recommendations, achieve greater impact and generate improved understanding when we work together. Here, working together encompassed the involvement and active engagement of those with the lived experiences, collaboration between academics and across disciplines and forging connections between the third sector and academics.
In terms of addressing adequacy within the social security system, the report recommends:
- restoring the £20 uplift and extend it to legacy benefits
- ending the two-child limit and the benefit cap
- increase Child Benefit by £10 and make it universal
- provide universal free school meals
- removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit which causes initial debts
- reducing the maximum debt deduction to 20 per cent
not punishing claimants for overpayments due to DWP error.
The full Covid Realities report is available from cdn.sanity.io.