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How are families dealing with the impact of coronavirus?

June 18th 2020

Steffan Evans looks at what a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children tells us about how Coronavirus is affecting low income families in Wales.

Empty shelves after panic buyin

The Coronavirus and the measures put in place to control its spread have had a severe impact on everyone in Wales, but some people have been affected worse than others. New research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children highlights the extent to which low income children and their families have been hit in recent months.

Many families were struggling before the current crisis. Data released on the eve of the pandemic showed that 28% of Welsh children, some 180,000, were living in poverty. The pandemic has hit many of these families hard and swept others who were surviving just above the poverty threshold into poverty.

With the number of people claiming out of work benefits in Wales doubling since March, many parents will have lost their jobs whilst others will have seen their pay reduced due to being put on furlough or as a result of seeing their working hours cut. Despite this, families must still find money to cover their essential costs. Indeed, some living costs have actually increased in recent months – gas and electricity bills have increased due to spending more time at home, as have food prices.

The Social Security system should be providing a safety net for families who are struggling. But the support on offer is inadequate, leading to families falling further into poverty. Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research lay out the extent of this failure clearly.

They found that a staggering seven out of ten families with children who were claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits have had to cut back on essentials such as food, utilities, nappies and activities for children (including books) as a result of the pandemic. Six out of every ten families have had to borrow money or take out a loan to get them through this period, whilst just over half have fallen behind on their rent or on other essential bills.

The immediate consequences are readily apparent, they are also likely to linger into the longer term. Growing up in poverty has a huge impact on a child’s learning and development, and has significant long term health consequences. With borrowing and debt mounting, many will find it hard to escape poverty in months to come.

The organisations did gather data on families in Wales. Working with Together Creating Communities the voice of Welsh communities is reflected in the report. No specific Welsh breakdown data is included in the report due to a small sample size, but it is likely that the picture in Wales will broadly reflect the situation in the UK as a whole.

What can be done?

The JRF and Save the Children are calling on the UK Government to ease the pressure faced by families by adding £20 a week to the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit. Across the UK they argue that such an increase would help 4 million families and 8 million children. You can join their campaign by signing their petition here.

The Bevan Foundation will continue to work looking for solutions to poverty both in the immediate term in response to the crisis and in the longer term. To find out more about how you can support us in this work, click here.

Steffan Evans is a Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation

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