Government welfare and tax changes, together with lower than forecast wage growth, will leave the majority of children in the UK living in families below the breadline by 2015, according to new Trades Union Congress (TUC) research published to coincide with its recent A Future For Families rally in central London
Tax and welfare reforms alone - both existing and future changes - will be responsible for nearly half a million more children living below the breadline, says the TUC.
'A Bleak Future For Families', a TUC report based on analysis by Howard Reed of Landman Economics, examines the current and future impact of various benefit and welfare changes, including Universal Credit, direct and indirect tax changes and real wage growth since 2010 on the incomes of different households and family types.
The research finds that the cumulative impact of government policies and slower than forecast wage growth over the course of this parliament will mean that 690,000 more children will be living below the minimum income standard - the level of income needed to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living in the UK - by 2015.
Minimum income standards (MIS), widely accepted and established by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2008, vary by family type. For example, the current MIS for a single pensioner is £12,623, rising to £23,992 for a single parent with two children and £24,643 for a couple with one child.
Tax and welfare changes, including tax credit cuts, the VAT rise and the increase in the personal allowance, will have the biggest net impact in terms of increasing the number of children whose families are struggling to make ends meet - pushing 460,000 more children below the breadline by 2015.
Slower than initially forecast wage growth over the course of this parliament pushes another 170,000 below the minimum income standard, while the pay freeze and cap for public sector workers will see 80,000 more children falling into hardship.
When all these changes are taken into account, Universal Credit - the government's flagship welfare scheme designed to tackle poverty and make work pay - will only lift 20,000 children above the MIS, says the research.
The research shows that an extra one million families will be living below the minimum income standard by 2015, compared to where they would have been under the policies and forecasts the government inherited in 2010. The majority (54.4 per cent) of children will be living below the MIS in two years time, says the TUC.
'A Bleak Future For Families' shows that nine in ten families will be worse off by 2015, with only the poorest ten per cent of households better off - and then only by 57p a week. A middle income household will be nearly £1,200 a year worse off by 2015 - a 6.6 per cent cut in their income - with the biggest single loss as a result of tax credit cuts (£505).
The research shows that while all bar the top ten per cent of households are net gainers as a result of changes to the personal allowance and the primary threshold for national insurance, all these gains are wiped out by the VAT rise in 2011. The poorest ten per cent of households gain just a penny a week from direct tax cuts but lose £3.38 through the VAT rise.
While the government has justified welfare cuts by saying that they target those out of work, working families are also hit hard by government austerity policies, says the research. Working lone parents are set to lose the equivalent of 8.2 per cent of their total income - far more than the median household loss of 6.6 per cent - mainly as result of tax credit cuts.
Households in Wales (7.2 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (6.9 per cent) will suffer the sharpest loss in incomes. This is partly due to the higher than average concentration of public sector workers in these regions, who are facing the biggest real terms cut in their wage packets.
The research came ahead of the TUC-organised rally in central London held on 13 March, in which various union leaders and campaigners urged the Chancellor to deliver a Budget that prioritises jobs, growth and families.
Speakers at the rally included the TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady, Shelter Chief Executive Campbell Robb, Child Poverty Action Group Chief Executive Alison Garnham and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman MP.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Families are suffering the tightest squeeze in their living standards in nearly a century. On top of wages that do not keep up with prices, government policies are making life even more miserable for millions of low to middle-income families through tax increases and cuts in benefits and tax credits.
"By the 2015 election, the majority of children in Britain will be living below the breadline. For any civilised society, that should be shaming."
She concluded: "But while the Prime Minister says there is no alternative, the truth is that support is growing for a new approach. The Budget should start from recognising that what Britain faces is a growth, jobs and living standards crisis. Rather than targeting tax cuts at millionaires, cutting VAT would benefit everyone, and would help poorer households far more than raising the personal allowance."
* 'A Bleak Future For Families' is available at: www.tuc.org.uk/Bleakfutureforfamilies
* An infographic illustrating the impact of austerity on median income households can be found at: http://bit.ly/14N6ulv