Call for emergency child benefit increase to help families through pandemic

A North East child poverty group is among the range of organisations to have called for an emergency increase in child benefit during the coronavirus crisis.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 28th April 2020, 5:50 pm

The North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) wants the Government to do more to support families through the current situation, to help ensure children in the region are protected from additional hardship.

Highlighting that more than 200,000 children were living in poverty in the North East even before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the economy and family incomes, the Commission has backed calls led by the national Child Poverty Action Group to prioritise an emergency increase in child benefit of £10 per child per week.

It claims child benefit is the most effective and resilient way to reach the most families the fastest, however, after almost a decade of freezes and sub-inflationary increases, it rose by the CPI inflation measure earlier this month, resulting in an increase of just 35p per week for a family’s first child and 25p for each subsequent child.

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NECPC chairman Jane Streather said: “We welcome the measures taken so far by the Government to protect household incomes and jobs. However, it’s clear that more action is urgently needed to support families with the increasing and unexpected costs they now face with children at home, at a time when finances are falling.

“Increasing Child Benefit is the quickest, most effective way of reaching the most children – and can be done at a stroke by the Chancellor using the existing system.

“This month’s increase of just 35p a week is frankly insulting given the huge strain family finances are now under, and that must be rectified as a priority.”

The NECPC has also called on the Government to do more to promote the furlough scheme to parents and carers who are no longer able to work due to having children at home – to ensure they do not have to take unpaid parental leave during the current crisis.

In relation to the operation of free school meals support, the Commission has pressed Ministers to allow eligible families to receive direct payments given the restrictive nature of the national voucher scheme currently being rolled out – a step which is taking place across Northern Ireland and in parts of Wales.

The body has contacted all MPs across the North East, urging them to also press the Government on these concerns.

The NECPC has additionally urged the Government to set out how it will support local authorities to bridge the digital divide, to ensure that children and young people without easy access to IT equipment, the internet and data aren’t even further disadvantaged by lengthy school closures.

Since the call, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Sunday, April 19, that disadvantaged children across England are set to receive laptops and tablets as part of a push to make remote education accessible.

Devices will be ordered for children in the most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers, while the Government will also provide 4G routers to make sure disadvantaged secondary school pupils and care leavers can access the internet.

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