The coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse financial impact on low income families, new research has found.
A study by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England found that eight in 10 low income families had been left worse off as a result of Covid-19.
Nearly half said they were suffering from physical or mental health problems due to coronavirus, while a similar proportion (48%) said they had encountered a new or worse debt problem in recent months.
Close to a quarter (23%) reported relationship issues at home and just under a half (46%) said they had taken on extra caring responsibilities.
The survey examined the experiences of 285 low income families with children that are eligible for free school meals.
The findings revealed the additional financial strain that many families have found themselves under since the start of the pandemic, with nine in 10 saying that they are now spending substantially more on food, electricity and other essentials.
A majority said the pandemic had affected their ability to pay for food (83%) and utilities (76%). Around half said coronavirus had impacted their ability to pay for housing (47%) and necessities for their children, like nappies and clothing (53%).
Responding to the findings, CPAG and the Church of England have called on the Government to raise child benefit by £10 a week, and extend free school meals to all families receiving universal credit or working tax credit.
It also wants the Government to abolish the benefit cap and work towards introducing free school meals for all school children.
CPAG Chief Executive Alison Garnham said: “Low-income parents have been living under a cloud of anxiety in lockdown – trying to find money for family basics as their costs have been rising. That’s taken a very heavy toll on the health and wellbeing of the worst affected parents and children.
“We all want to protect children and families from the effects of the coronavirus recession and to prevent a growth in poverty following the pandemic. But the support we offer low income parents just doesn’t meet the additional costs of raising children and there was nothing in the Government’s emergency support schemes to correct this shortfall.
“Child benefit alone has lost £5 of its value since 2010 because of sub-inflationary uprating and freezes. Re -investing in children’s benefits and widening access to free school meals should be the priorities now to protect family incomes and to support children’s life chances.
“As the Government’s Covid-19 emergency support schemes are tapered away in the coming months, more help will be needed for struggling families who have lost jobs or taken income drops. Otherwise they will have only more hardship on their horizon.”
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said: “Although some commentators have talked about the last few months as an opportunity to live a simpler lifestyle, this report sets out in stark detail how for many families it has been a constant struggle.
“It bears out what churches have experienced first-hand in every community: that families have been placed under huge strain; that the worst off have again been worst hit and, for many, things now could get worse rather than better.
“In these unprecedented times, we all need to ask ourselves urgently how we can help our neighbour. It is also imperative that the Government does all that it can to protect families and children by implementing the practical recommendations in this report. We all must play our part.”