Labour has been accused of failing to wage an all-out war on poverty after the party said the Government’s punishing four-year freeze on benefits would continue. The freeze – due to run until 2020 – is widely recognised to be a key driver behind forecasts of rising poverty to come, as the bottom 20 per cent of society sees its incomes fall. The freeze targets jobseeker’s allowance, income support, employment support allowance and housing benefit, as well as child benefit and tax credits - affecting 11 million families across the UK.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity said the freeze unless reversed, would add to poverty, especially as prices rise – making a freeze even more painful. “Our view is the four-year freeze on most working age benefits should be reconsidered, in light of rising inflation and stagnant wages,” a spokesman told The Independent.
The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies warned, earlier this month, that absolute child poverty is poised to rise back to rates last seen in the early 2000s, also pinpointing the benefits freeze. “Cuts in the real value of benefits will reduce incomes among poorer working age households,” it said. “Real incomes are projected to fall among the poorest 20 per cent of households over the next five years, with households with children being particularly affected.”
Laurence Guinness, chief executive of the Childhood Trust charity, said there had been a “lack of honesty” from all parties on the issue of child poverty. “Low pay and the universal credit system is making working families’ lives a misery. It needs to change. It’s gone too far against children in poverty,” he told The Independent. “We’re worried about the increase in child poverty that we’re seeing. Families are living with one lightbulb because they’re afraid of running up the electricity bill. Children are sleeping on bits of cardboard because they can’t afford beds. We’re disappointed that child poverty hasn’t been mentioned by any political party, specifically as an issue – children’s rights have been ignored across the board.”
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said elements of universal credit that apply to disabled people were currently frozen. “We’re calling on all political parties to commit to no further benefit cuts to disabled people – that’s just a minimum. That means no cuts in real terms,” she said. “We call on all political parties to commit to no freeze to any benefits that affect disabled children or disabled adults and no further cuts in the future.”
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society said: “It is deeply worrying to know that at least 197,000 children have been hit by the lower benefit cap since it was introduced last November, cutting the money needed to keep a roof over their heads. Our concern is that the cap will only worsen child poverty, which is set to balloon to 5 million by the end of the decade. While we think it's right that work pays, sadly it is children who are bearing the brunt of this cap.”