Local authority leaders have called on the Government to restore local welfare funding as a study warns of the impact the pandemic is having on people who were already struggling with poverty.
In their annual study on poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that before the coronavirus pandemic began, around 14.5 million people in the UK lived in poverty. This equates to more than one-in-five people.
The report warns that those who were already struggling to stay afloat have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. These include part-time and low-paid workers, Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, single parents (mostly women), and private renters.
The foundation also warned that unemployment was set to rise in the coming months and so called on the Government to take ‘bold action’ to retrain workers and to support those in low-paid and part-time jobs. They also called for the Employment Bill to be brought forward.
The report recommended a strengthening of the benefits system. This would include making the temporary £20 per week increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit permanent and extending it to people on legacy benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
It also urged the Government to increase the amount of low-cost housing available for families on low incomes and increase support for households who have high housing costs.
Responding to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report, Cllr Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Resources Board, said that it demonstrated the ‘worrying impact’ COVID-19 had had on the most vulnerable.
Cllr Watts welcomed the Government’s current support for children on free school meals and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit. However, he argued that local authorities required more funding in order to support people in poverty.
‘As many households are likely to be economically vulnerable for some time to come, it is vital that the Government restores local welfare funding so councils can provide support to families who need it,’ he said.
‘Councils want to help the circumstances of all their residents, regardless of their background or where they live. To help, they need long-term sustainable funding to do more planned preventative work to address underlying causes of hardship and disadvantage, and provide support to all households who need it.
‘This includes full funding for family support services, the ability for councils to resume their historic role as major builders of affordable homes and to be able to make the best use of employment and skills provision.’