Minister for London
House of Commons
16th April 2020
Re: The need for additional support for families with children in London
We welcome the government’s fast response to support job retention and respond to income shocks during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the introduction of the £500 million Hardship Fund to provide council tax relief for vulnerable households, the increase to the monthly standard allowance for universal credit and the decision to increase LHA rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents. We also welcome new support announced by the Chancellor through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will help save people’s jobs and the Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme, which will protect many people’s incomes. These measures have gone a considerable way to strengthen the social security safety net during this unprecedented crisis.
However, we are concerned that little additional support has been targeted at families with children. As the London Child Poverty Alliance, we are committed to doing everything we can to tackle child poverty in the capital, which stands at 37 per cent after housing costs are taken into account – the highest child poverty rate of all UK regions, and a rate that is likely to rise as a result of the current crisis.
Two thirds of children living in poverty in London are in working households, with parents in low-paid work. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently found that low-paid workers, young people and women are likely to be the hardest hit by the shutdown of businesses affected by coronavirus, including restaurants, hotels, pubs, retailers and transport services. These sectors are highly concentrated in London, which to date has also seen the most cases of coronavirus of any region in the UK. With this in mind, we urge the Minister to ask the Chancellor to pledge additional emergency support for families with children, which will particularly benefit those affected in London. We have six key asks:
- Ensure that local authorities have the resources they need and the systems in place to provide local welfare assistance during the pandemic
With the loss of jobs and incomes in London, as well as the unexpected costs of school closures, many families with children are now in severe financial hardship and need emergency financial support to pay utility bills and buy food, particularly when alternative forms of support such as council tax relief or free school meal vouchers are not available. Provision of local welfare assistance in London varies greatly and there are currently five out of 33 local authorities with no local welfare assistance schemes at all. Should the £500 million Hardship Fund not provide enough funding for local authorities to deliver local welfare assistance, additional funds should be made available specifically for this purpose. This would ensure that hard-hit families, wherever they live in London, are able to meet their children’s most immediate needs during the crisis.
- Uplift child benefit payments by £10 per child per week for the duration of the pandemic
Child benefit reaches around one million families in London, most of whom will be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and many of whom will not be receiving means-tested benefits. A £10 uplift in child benefit per child per week for the duration of the pandemic would help all families with their immediate needs and give them the flexibility to pay for essentials, with the money going straight into families’ bank accounts. An increase in child benefit of £10 per child per week would also reduce child poverty by about five percentage points and household poverty by one to two percentage points.
- Make Universal Credit advances non-repayable grants
Universal Credit is providing families with much-needed financial support during the current crisis. However, with hundreds of thousands of new universal credit claims opened in London in recent weeks and many more claims predicted, claimants will be faced with either waiting five weeks for their first payment, or taking out an advance which they must pay back. Making advances non-repayable would support Londoners with the costs of living – especially housing – which are higher than the rest of England and prevent them from falling into complex debt situations from the very start of their claims in circumstances that are outside their control.
- Raise Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the average cost of renting in each local area (the 50th percentile) for the duration of the pandemic
While we welcome the government’s decision to increase LHA rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents, this still leaves seven in ten family homes unaffordable at a time when moving home is a public health risk. With many families in London suffering job losses and income shocks, we welcome the government’s legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation for three months. However, we believe further action is needed to ensure that families at risk of homelessness do not lose their homes. This is why we are asking for housing benefit to be lifted to cover the average cost of renting in each area, or the 50th percentile, for the duration of the pandemic.
- Remove the benefit cap and the two-child limit
The benefit cap has a significant impact in London because of the capital’s high rents, which lead to a significant number of housing benefit claims. The large number of London households capped (and the larger reductions they experience) is contributing to families facing hardship and adding to the pressures on local authorities’ homelessness and housing options services. To ensure families in need can access the new housing benefit rates announced by the government, we are calling for the benefit cap to be lifted. There is currently no justification for having a cap designed to encourage people to move into work. In addition, we would like to see the two-child limit policy lifted. Families who decided to have three or more children at a time when they were working and in receipt of universal credit or tax credits before coronavirus, could not have predicted a crisis on this scale. If the two-child limit policy is not lifted, almost 100,000 families in London, including over 340,000 children, will be affected by the end of this Parliament.
- Remove the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition for the duration of the pandemic
There are tens of thousands of residents with NRPF in the capital, including valued delivery drivers, cleaners and NHS staff. In order to minimise the risks around the spread of the virus, we must ensure that migrants on the verge of, or already experiencing, homelessness and destitution, including survivors of domestic violence, are able to access vital support, healthcare and appropriate accommodation. We were pleased to hear the Home Office commit to reconsider the process for the removal of the NRPF condition in March this year – however the timescales are too long for families at risk now. Therefore we are asking you to work with your colleagues in the Home Office to suspend the condition of NRPF for all, so that families can get the support they need, and are able to stay at home and stop any further potential spread of Covid-19.
We recognise that many demands are being placed on the government, but we hope as Minister for London you can use your knowledge and influence to make the case for additional support for families with children in the capital. If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised by us in this letter, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Deborah Hargreaves, Chair, London Child Poverty Alliance
Laura Payne, Project Manager, 4in10 London’s child poverty campaign network
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Naomi Martin, Director, Commonside Community Development Trust
Muna Yassin, Managing Director, Fair Money Advice
Lizzie Poulton, Scheme Manager, Home-Start Lambeth
Amita Kronsten, Chair, Home Start Merton
Karen McLean, Director, Home-Start Richmond, Kingston & Hounslow
Cheryl Rhodes, Director, Home-Start Southwark
Judith Armstrong, Scheme Manager, Home-Start Sutton
Laura Ferreira, Scheme Manager, Home-Start Wandsworth
Miriam Philip, Interim Manager, Home-Start Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham
Jess Mcquail, Director, Just Fair
Sophia Parker, Chief Executive, Little Village
June O’Sullivan, Chief Executive, London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)
Dr. Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint Secretaries, National Education Union
Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede
Amy Wilkes, London Hub Service Manager, Shelter
Andrew Varley, Chief Executive Officer, St Vincent’s Family Project
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming
Dr Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research, The Children’s Society
Bharat Mehta CBE, Chief Executive, Trust for London
Catherine Mahoney, Director, Westminster Befriend a Family
Raji Hunjan, Chief Executive Officer, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
 Robert Joyce and Xiaowei Xu (2020) Sector shutdowns during the coronavirus crisis: which workers are most exposed? Institute for Fiscal Studies
 Carla Ayrton, Peter Kenway and Josh Holden (2019) An Assessment of Local Social Security Provision in London New Policy Institute and Trust for London
 Bradshaw J and Keung A (2020) Poor children need a coronavirus bonus, York: Social Policy Research Unit