Low-income parents rely on Child Benefit for household basics

By agency reporter
September 1, 2020

As many families prepare this week for a uniquely expensive return to school after lockdown, new research shows that in recent years parents have increasingly had to use their child benefit to cover utility bills and other bottom-line household costs.

The research, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), is based on a survey of 1,000 parents receiving child benefit in summer 2020. The findings were compared with the results of a similar survey conducted in 2012. Parents were asked to select all items or services they used part or all of their child benefit to pay for.

Key survey findings 2020:

  • 28 per cent of parents receiving child benefit said they now spend it on day-to-day living/general expenses, up from two per cent in 2012
  • 14 per cent reported spending child benefit on bills, up from four per cent in 2012
  • 33 per cent are spending it on food in 2020, up from 26 per cent in 2012
  • 15 per cent of parents today spend child benefit on baby products/formula milk/nappies/wipes compared to nine per cent in 2012
  • Today just less than a quarter (23 per cent) spend it on clothes/shoes for children (down from 51 per cent in 2012).

The 2020 survey shows that many families depend on child benefit and that parents value the fact that most families receive it:

  • 37 per cent said they couldn’t manage without it.
  • Almost three quarters (74 per cent) said every family should be treated equally when it comes to child benefit.

Child benefit has lost 23 per cent of its value since 2010 because of freezes and sub-inflationary uprating. Child Poverty Action Group is calling for a £10 weekly increase in child benefit to ensure that parents can protect their children from hardship. While the pandemic has made finances even tighter for families – with many facing income drops just as their costs climbed because children were at home during school closures – there was no targeted extra support for children in the Government’s economic response, besides a temporary extension of free school meals replacement vouchers.

Commenting on the survey findings, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This week especially many parents will be worrying about whether they’ve got enough money to meet their children’s needs as they face an exceptionally expensive post-lockdown return to school. Some will have been asked to supply masks and learning equipment and packed lunches for the school day, and almost all will have to buy new shoes and uniforms for children who’ve outgrown their old kit after months at home.

“In the period ahead, as the coronavirus recession takes hold, we are likely to see many more families falling into hardship and many more parents struggling to stop their children from slipping into poverty. Yet there was nothing in the Government’s economic response to the pandemic that offered ongoing targeted financial support for children.

“For almost 50 years, child benefit has been there for children as a minimum protection against poverty but its value has been eroded and as our survey shows, hard-pressed parents are increasingly having to spend it on general household essentials. That isn’t right. As a nation we invest in the state pension to support everyone in retirement, we should be investing just as much in child benefit to support all families with the extra costs of children. Re-investing in child benefit is the least we can do to shore up children’s life chances in these uncertain times.”

Child benefit is currently £21.05 per week for an eldest or only child and £13.95 for any additional children.  

* Child Poverty Action Group https://cpag.org.uk/

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