One and a half million children will fall into poverty due to Conservative welfare reforms, finds report

May Bulman
‘It’s shocking that the future generation will be the hardest hit and that so many will be condemned to start life in poverty,’ said EHRC chair: Getty

Government welfare reforms will put 1.5 million more children in poverty and cause women to lose out by 13 times more than men, according to a new report.

An analysis by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reveals cuts to benefits and tax credits under the Tory government will see children hardest hit, forecasting that around one and a half million more under-18s will live in households below the relative poverty line by 2022.

Women will also be disproportionately impacted by the reforms, losing about £400 per year on average, compared with an average annual loss of just £30 for men, the findings show, prompting fears that economic inequalities facing women are “only set to get worse”.

Politicians and campaigners have warned the policies such as the freeze in working-age benefit rates and reductions in universal credit rates are “damaging” the lives of vulnerable groups, and accused the Government of refusing to properly assess the impact of the changes.

The research, which analyses the impact welfare reforms between 2010 and 2018, shows households with lone parents and children are set to lose an average of £5,250 – almost one-fifth of their total net income, compared to a loss of £3,000 for couples with children. This will see the child poverty rate for those in lone parent households increase from 37 per cent to over 62 per cent.

Lone parents with the lowest household income distribution suffer the largest average losses from the reforms – equivalent to approximately 25 per cent of their net income, or one pound in every four.

Disabled people within these groups will lose out even more, with households that have at least one adult defined as “core disabled” and at least one disabled child facing losses of £6,500 per year on average from the reforms – equivalent to more than 13 per cent of their total net income.

Lone parents with six or more functional disabilities will meanwhile lose more than £11,000 on average from the reforms – more than 30 per cent of their net income, according to the analysis.

The report states that these negative impacts are largely driven by changes to the benefit system, in particular the freeze in working-age benefit rates, changes to disability benefits and reductions in universal credit rates.

It comes amid growing pressure on Theresa May to make changes to universal credit, which is being blamed for plunging people into debt and punishing the self-employed, people working part time and women – because payments go a single household earner, who is usually a man.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in November found 400,000 more children were set to fall into poverty by 2021 if the Government pursued its planned rollout of universal credit, prompting warnings that Britain’s record of reducing child poverty was at risk of “unravelling” as a result of the changes.

Child poverty is defined as any youngster living in a household with an income of less than 60 per cent of the national average, after housing costs are taken into account.

In light of its findings, the EHRC warned that “considerable work” still needed to be done to ensure that equality considerations were fully incorporated into decision making by HM Treasury, and more broadly across the UK Government.

David Isaac, chair of the commission, said it was “disappointing” to discover that the reforms it had examined “negatively affected” the most disadvantaged in society.

He added: “It’s even more shocking that children – the future generation – will be the hardest hit and that so many will be condemned to start life in poverty. We cannot let this continue if we want a fairer Britain.

“We are keen to work together with government to achieve its vision of a Britain that works for everyone. To achieve this outcome it is essential that a full cumulative impact analysis is undertaken of all current and future tax and social security policies.

“We have proved it’s possible and urge the Government to follow our lead and work with us to deliver it.”

Dawn Butler, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, accused the Government of refusing to properly assess polices at “every stage” and subsequently “damaging” the lives of vulnerable groups.

She told The Independent:These figures expose the true damage Tory austerity is having on women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, children and lone parents.

“If they don’t want to look at the damage, maybe they will listen to the women set to lose 13 times more than men or the suggested additional 1.5 million children who will be in poverty.”

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, meanwhile accused ministers of “systematically forcing” the UK’s most vulnerable groups into poverty “under the pretence of ‘necessary medicine’ for the economy”.

“It is extraordinary to consider we have now arrived at the point in our broken economic model when the lives and opportunities of women and children are entirely expendable – fuel for the continued success of a small minority of privileged men while benefits and public services are slashed,” she said.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said the report confirmed that the scale of the losses resulting from welfare changes was “staggering”.

“The report confirms the findings of our analysis with Institute for Public Policy Research, which show that the very families already at greater risk of poverty – including lone parents (mostly mothers), families with very young children and those with a disability – are especially hard hit by a decade of cuts to the incomes of families with children,” she said.

“It is a page-by-page indictment of recent decisions on social security. Unless there is a change of direction we will jeopardise the wellbeing of a future generation.”

Ms Garnham said the priorities for the short term should be ending the freeze on children’s benefits, restoring funding for universal credit and reinstating child allowances for third and subsequent children.

On the discrepancies in financial losses for women and men, Dr Carole Easton OBE, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said: “Women – and especially young women – are falling into poverty as a result of changes to taxes and social security.

“They are working hard to be financially independent but for too many the reality is insecure work, low pay and debt. Today’s EHRC report shows that this is only set to get worse unless the Government takes action.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Our commitment to equality and fairness has seen child poverty drop, inequality drop and female employment reach a record high.

“We spend £90bn a year on welfare to support those who need it most and this report does not take into account many of the important changes that government has introduced since 2010.

“Automatic enrolment pension saving and near-record employment are just two issues which contribute enormously to people’s lives, but are not reflected in the analysis.”