Campaigners have warned of a lack of generosity in the benefits system which means it is “fundamentally not fit for purpose” as they revealed millions of families are trapped in poverty.
An analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that 13.4 million people were in poverty during the first year of the pandemic, including 3.9 million children.
But it argues that the government is not “powerless” to stop families falling into poverty, pointing to a £20-per-week Universal Credit uplift that has reduced poverty among large families and young children.
Social Security was given a temporary boost through October 2021.
The JRF said that the return of uplift coincides with spiraling inflation and a crisis of living standards, due to which millions of people are now living without basic amenities.
According to JRF research this winter, some 7.2 million people are running out of food, shelter and heating, and 4.7 million people are behind on paying their bills.
Peter Matejic, chief analyst at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This winter we have seen two crises collide – the cost of living is forcing families to cut back on essentials and our healthcare service is being overwhelmed by demand .
“Letting people go hungry, skipping baths or living in cold homes risks more profound and long-term consequences – not only for the health of individuals but for the capacity of the state that all of us citizens should be able to hope for.”
He said: “Governments are far from helpless and none of this is inevitable. The £20 rise was the right political choice which clearly made a huge difference during the pandemic and has been a complete disaster for families around the UK The difficult years could have been prevented.
“The relief provided by this measure, far from being hit by the cost of living crisis, also demonstrated that the standard rates of Social Security are fundamentally not fit for purpose, with millions now without food, heating and Going without essentials like cleaning.”
He said that tackling multiple injustices at once required “political will and imagination”.
The report also found that one million children under the age of four were growing up in poverty despite additional support.
One in six (18%) children were living in persistent poverty, defined as at least three out of the past four years. It said that almost 40 per cent of children in a single parent household are in poverty.
JRF said the pandemic has also exposed huge health disparities, with a strong overlap between poverty rates and the ethnicity of where families live, and their health outcomes.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The scale of the crisis’s cost of life and its impact on children across the country is devastating.
“Families have struggled through 12 years of conservative mismanagement of the economy. This shows the hardships families are now being put through as they destroy the economy.
“Labor will take the right steps, reduce energy bills and raise living standards and tackle the growing poverty crisis facing the country.”
A government spokesman said: “We recognize that families across the country are facing financial pressure as a result of Putin’s war on Ukraine and the aftershock of Covid; That is why we are committed to halving inflation this year to bring down the cost of living.
“We have also intervened with a £26 billion support package which includes direct payments of up to £1,350 to the most vulnerable households in the next financial year, an increase to 2022 direct payments. This is on top of our Energy Price Guarantee, which is worth £900 to an average household this winter, and our Energy Rebate, which runs until March and is providing £400 towards energy bills.
“We are spending £1.5bn on further support, with England’s domestic support and directly helping those in need with essential costs, and are currently offering free school meals to all five- to seven-year-olds which is benefiting lakhs of children. ,
(tags to translate) Joseph Rowntree Foundation