Childrens Commissioner backs calls for welfare reform

Children’s Commissioner backs calls for welfare reform

Parents’ stresses about the cost of living are at the forefront of young people’s minds, according to England’s Children’s Commissioner.

She branded it “deeply worrying” as she backed calls for welfare reform.

Dame Rachel de Souza said every single child she had spoken to for her latest major research project had answered yes when asked if their parents were worried about food costs.

Her Big Ambition research report covered a wide range of topics including family, jobs and skills, education, online safety and health – but Dame Rachel said the cost-of-living issue had been “ubiquitous in children’s responses”.

She said: “I asked every single child ‘are your parents worried about cost of food?’ and every single child answered yes, right across the country. And we went to every kind of setting you can imagine.”

She said it is “deeply worrying” that “it is one of the first things on children’s minds”.

The findings come just days after the latest official statistics showed a record high number of children living in poverty in the UK – which saw charities redouble their calls for the two-child benefit cap to be scrapped.

There were an estimated 4.33 million children in households in relative low income after housing costs in the year to March 2023 – the highest since comparable records for the UK began in 2002/03.

A household is considered to be in relative poverty if it is below 60% of the median income after housing costs.

Absolute poverty – which looks at households below 60% of the median income in 2010/11, uprated by inflation – rose for the second year in a row.

There were an estimated 11.99 million people in absolute poverty in the UK in the year to March 2023, up from 11.39 million the previous year.

Of these, there were 3.63 million children in absolute poverty – equivalent to one in four.

In 2015, the Government announced support through child tax credit would be limited to two children only for those born from April 2017.

Charities have long called for the “harmful rule” to be scrapped – saying doing so would lift quarter of a million children out of poverty overnight.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has also spoken out on the issue, describing it in a House of Lord debate in December as an “unfair penalty” which affects children’s educational outcomes, mental and physical health, and their likelihood to require public support from public services later on.

Now the commissioner has backed their calls, as she set out proposals for welfare reforms.

Asked about calls for the cap to be ditched, she told reporters: “I absolutely agree with the charities (calling for the two-child limit to be scrapped).”

Calling for wider reform, Dame Rachel said she feels “really strongly that the pressures on families with young children are immense”, especially those close to poverty.

She said: “We want welfare reform looked at in relation to that group. We think there’s a lot that can be done as well as (scrapping) the two-child limit. No child should grow up in poverty in the sixth richest country in the world, frankly.”

Her report, launched at an event in Parliament on Monday, argues the cap means children in larger families are more likely to experience financial difficulties and that “children should not be penalised or plunged into poverty because of the choices of their parents”.

The commissioner is calling for the existing base rate for universal credit to be reviewed, a “triple-lock” for uprating all child-related benefits so they keep up with cost of living rises, for all eligible children to auto-enrolled in free school meals ” to avoid any entitled children missing out”, and more free breakfast clubs.

Dame Rachel’s report is made up of responses from 367,000 children and adults across England and included some from children living in secure settings and around mental health hospitals.

It found only around a fifth (22%) of children feel politicians are listening to them, with the commissioner concluding young people are “talked about, rather than to – they are not truly heard”.

Dame Rachel described her report as a “call to action to all politicians and policy makers in this general election year: listen to children and act on what they are telling you”.

Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed that he would keep the Conservatives’ two-child benefit cap, telling the BBC in July he was “not changing that policy” if Labour wins the next election despite growing calls from anti-poverty campaigners for it to be abandoned.

A Government spokesperson said: “We back the Children’s Commissioner’s message about the importance of listening young people’s voices and encouraging their ambition and we thank the children and young people who participated in this survey.

“We are focused on ensuring every child and young person gets the best start in life and opportunities they need to get ahead, and our plan is working; we have transformed the quality and choice in education and there are now more opportunities for young people than ever before.

“We know the last few years have been tough, which is why we stepped in with the biggest cost of living package in Europe, worth an average of £3,800 per household, and this unprecedented support prevented 1.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2022-23.”

The Children’s Charities Coalition said: “It can’t be right that so many children and young people feel their voices aren’t being heard by the adults who run the country.

“We back the Children’s Commissioner’s call to action for the next government to commit to putting all their energy and effort towards improving the lives of children and young people. The question remains: if not now, when?”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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