From the CEO: Response to the Autumn Statement

Our Chief Executive, Leigh Elliott shares our charity’s response to yesterday’s Autumn Statement from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

We are relieved that the Chancellor has chosen to do the right thing in his Autumn Statement by fully uprating benefits in line with inflation, increasing the Minimum Wage and unfreezing Local Housing Allowance. This is the bare minimum low-income families need in the current climate to keep their heads above water. However, this set of announcements falls far short of what is needed to tackle the scourge of child poverty and to protect the most vulnerable families.

Not extending the minimum wage to under 21s, many of who are forced to support themselves without help from family, is an unacceptable form of age discrimination. Young workers, doing the same job, and often having the same rent and bills to pay as their older colleagues, need to be properly paid for the work they do.

Moreover, the rhetoric around extreme sanctions for those who ‘don’t look for work’ is deeply concerning, and could have a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities.

The existing claimant commitment stringently ensures those who are able to look for work do so.  Families don’t need sanctions to get them back to work, they need affordable childcare, especially during school holidays, jobs which are flexible around the needs of their children, and the NHS treatment they need without long waiting lists. These are the issues government should be tackling, rather than using stigmatising language and a blame narrative to heap pressure and threats onto the minority of households who are already struggling the most.

People with complex health conditions fear work capability assessments will deem they can work when they are already using every ounce of their capacity to meet the basic care needs of themselves and their children. The anxiety that they could be forced to look for jobs they are unable to do, or be left with literally nothing to live on, will make things far worse.  We want urgent reassurances from the treasury that children in non-working households will be protected from even deeper poverty and destitution.

We are asking all political parties in their upcoming manifestos to commit to a full reset of tax and welfare policies in a ‘child-first’ budget, and a cross-departmental strategy to tackle child poverty and enable every child growing up in the UK to thrive.  And we are calling on our government as leaders to renew their commitment to looking after the most vulnerable in society, and abandon the rhetoric of blaming and shaming the poorest people for being ‘a burden’ to deflect from the wider problems around the management of taxpayers’ money.