A group of leading children’s charities have come together and written to the Prime Minister, calling on him to do more to protect children from a winter of hunger and hardship.
Chief Executives from The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, Save the Children, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau are asking Boris Johnson to work with them so the government can develop both long and short term measures to help vulnerable children and their families through this challenging winter and beyond.
The Covid-19 crisis has already disproportionally affected low income families. Many have suffered income and job losses, while also facing the increased expenses of having children at home while schools were closed. With the weekend’s announcement that the country is going back into lockdown on Thursday, the challenges families face are likely to intensify.
The letter comes after what was an exceptionally difficult half term for thousands of children and their families, many of whom had no choice but to turn to the kindness of their local communities to stave off holiday hunger.
With public support for tackling child poverty at an all-time high, the charities are asking the Prime Minister to stand by his commitment to make sure that no child goes hungry this winter and to work with them to improve support for struggling families.
The charity leaders have urged the government to do more to stop poverty and inequality hampering children’s life chances. The group, who work with some of the most disadvantaged children and families across the country, say the government must tackle the widespread problems and create an overarching strategy to reduce them.
Their solutions cover a wide range of areas, from extending the provision of free school meals; to investing more in children’s services; improving the welfare system and tackling educational inequalities.
Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The number of children living in poverty is growing each year, with three in every ten children now affected. This is unacceptable and the Government must act now.
"The Prime Minister talks of building back better, we want him to prove this is more than just a slogan. Children must be put at the heart of recovery and we would urge him to move forward with our suggestions to tackle the endemic issues of poverty.
“Every child deserves a future full of promise but the Covid crisis is jeopardising the hopes and chances of young people in this country, that’s why we must work together to ensure every child can thrive.”
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “Even before the pandemic, millions of families were living in poverty with barely enough to get by on. Often these are working families whose incomes simply do not stretch to anything more than the basic necessities.
"As we enter a second phase of national lockdown restrictions, we fear many more children will be swept into poverty, leaving their parents turning to food banks and hand-outs to make ends meet.
"Yet while these low-income families struggle, the government is in denial, using data selectively to avoid addressing the problem. Families must be able to feed their children without losing their dignity and for that to happen the government must invest in proper social security.”
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated deep-rooted inequalities in our society, and threatens to set vulnerable children back further.
“The crisis is wreaking havoc on children’s mental health and wellbeing, putting more at risk at home, online and in the community, and means more families face a winter struggling to pay for food and fuel. Those living in digital poverty are falling further behind with their education and missing out on key opportunities. Some groups face additional risks, like children caring for unwell relatives, young people leaving the care system, and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
“Today’s young generation face extremely complex challenges, and the pandemic must be a catalyst for real change. We stand ready to work with the Government to design the short and longer term solutions that will give the most vulnerable children the best possible chance of a positive future.”
Chief Executive of Action for Children, Melanie Armstrong, said: “As the country enters a second national lockdown and deals with the worst economic crisis of a generation, ministers continue to have an inexplicable and frustrating blind spot about children in low income families.
“Millions of families across the country already struggling to keep their kids clothed and well-fed face one of the bleakest winters of their lives. To prevent a generation of children from being scarred by poverty and the pandemic, the government must stand up now to put a protective shield around these children.
“If it stands any chance of levelling up society, it must ensure this month’s spending review makes clear Universal Credit will not be cut by £20 a week in the spring and that free school meals are available for those who need them. We also need a child poverty strategy to make life more bearable for desperate families and give their children a safe and happy childhood.”
Becca Lyon, Head of Child Poverty at Save the Children, said: “With winter on its way and more job losses expected, things are about to get even more difficult for families still reeling from the cost of lockdown. Parents tell us they’re already having to go without meals or electricity when their money runs out, and many are worried that the cost of heating their homes through the winter will push them into even more debt.
“Our country’s safety net is supposed to help those who need it through difficult times. The government must recognise the added pressure families are under right now, and make policy decisions that have our children’s best interests at heart.
"At the very least, we urge the chancellor not to go ahead with plans to take away £1000 in benefits from low income households next April, which would leave families with children in a desperate situation. It's clear we need a long term plan to tackle child poverty. It's also clear that action is needed now.”
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic is putting children and families under pressure like never before. As the impact of the crisis drags on we are hearing from our services how worries about money, job security, social isolation and insecure housing risks pushing families into crisis. Ensuring food is available for children that need it is vital, but we must also plan further ahead and do more.
“We know that living with prolonged adversity in childhood can cause short and long-term harm, increase the likelihood of emotional and mental health problems and undermine educational progress. That’s why we must all do everything we can to get children through this crisis, and why the Government must set out an ambitious recovery plan to ensure their futures are not defined by the pandemic.”