Children are left out in the cold with the current benefits freeze

Posted by Jessica Hillyard / Wednesday 04 October 2017 / Early intervention Government spending

Recently, the Government indicated that from next year police and school staff will no longer be constrained by the 1% public sector pay cap, helping some working families. However, the impact of wider spending freezes affecting the lives of children and families remains off the agenda.

The current freeze on working-age benefits means that, for the next four years, vital support including Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits will stay at the same cash amount as in 2015/16. Yet, latest official figures showed the inflation rate at a four-year high and from 2010 to 2020, prices are expected to have risen by 35%. With these significant increases in the cost of living, the impacts of the freeze are now predicted to hit around 11.5 million families by 2020.

By age five, half of children from low-income families are not ready for school and those growing up in poverty generally reach lower levels of development at this age than their more affluent peers. Those starting at the bottom at age five are six times more likely to be at the bottom at age seven. And over half (55%) of children at the bottom at age seven remain there at GCSE.

"By age five, half of children from low-income families are not ready for school"

Our efforts should clearly be to move more children out of poverty. Yet the Government has estimated that more than 1.8 million children aged under five live in families receiving tax credits and therefore affected by the benefits freeze. The combination of this benefits freeze and rising prices could force some families to choose between a warm home or providing a balanced meal this winter as increasing financial pressures make it more difficult to give every child the best possible start in life.

Frozen benefits and increases in the cost of living come at a time when just 2.7% of new government spending for early education and care, necessary to develop, learn and grow, will go to the most disadvantaged children. Instead, more than 25 times that amount will go to better-off children with parents earning up to £100,000 each.

Removing the pay cap for public sector workers is a welcome step which will benefit many families. But the Government must also address wider causes of poverty or risk freezing progress for a generation of children from low-income families.

If the Government is to make good on the commitment to give every child the best possible start in life, ministers must urgently review the freeze on working-age benefits in the context of rising inflation and the cost of living.

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