Universal credit cut will lead to more UK children in care – study

Academic modelling estimates removal of £20-a-week uplift will result in explosion in child poverty

About 1,500 additional UK children a year would be removed from their families and taken into care as a result of the explosion in child poverty caused by the removal of the £20-a-week universal credit uplift, a study has predicted.

The impact of the cut on already struggling families would drive a 5% increase in children in care and see 5,500 extra children placed on child protection plans, with thousands more formally classified as “in need” after being referred to social services.

Academic modelling estimates the extra cost to councils of increased safeguarding services would be £100m a year at a time when local authorities are already failing to fund growing numbers of children taken into care during the pandemic.

Poverty is closely linked with increases in parental stress, mental illness, and domestic violence, all risk factors for child protection intervention. The study estimates that 290,000 UK children currently live in households that will fall below the poverty line once the uplift, worth £1,050 a year, is withdrawn.

Researchers urged ministers to abandon their plans to cut universal credit from next month to ease growing pressures on low-income households. With national insurance rises and soaring food and energy bills, some families could be as much as £1,750 a year worse off by April.

“Put simply, it is more difficult to keep children safe from adversity if families are living in material hardship. Poverty affects children directly and causes toxic stress within families, putting them at increased risk,” said the study’s co-author David Taylor-Robinson, professor of public health and policy at the University of Liverpool.

He added: “The ongoing dramatic rise in children in care is already leading to unsustainable pressures on local authority budgets. To have any chance of ‘levelling-up’ it is essential that families with children are protected from the damaging impacts of child poverty.”

Although the government is reportedly looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the £20 cut on some claimants, the researchers said this would have a “marginal” effect and do little to shield claimants from the consequences of a large and sudden shock to household incomes.

Josh MacAlister, the head of the ongoing government-commissioned review of children’s social care, said he would carefully examine the findings of the research. The review’s interim report published in June confirmed a causal link between poverty and rising levels of child abuse and neglect.

“Poverty creates stress in its own right as well as making families less resilient to other shocks and struggles,” he said. “Whilst welfare is not in the scope of this review, we recognise that increases in poverty have spending consequences for children’s social care.”

Charlotte Ramsden, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “That the new research shows the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift could have such a direct and dramatic impact on the number of children being subject to a child protection plan or entering care, should reinforce the need for urgent action.

“Whilst care is the right place to be for some children, pursuing policies that will knowingly exacerbate the difficulties families face and even tip them into crisis seems very far removed from the promises of levelling up the country.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have put in place unprecedented welfare support and ensured vulnerable children and families have been able to access this. Helping people back into work is the best way to end the cycle of poverty – that’s why our multibillion-pound Plan for Jobs is focused on helping them learn new skills, increase their hours or find new jobs.

“We have invested millions in the frontline charities directly supporting vulnerable children, and we’re championing family hubs where parents can get vital services for their children from infancy up to age 19. Our Innovation Programme is exploring new ways to improve outcomes for children in or at risk of care, and the independent review of children’s social care is looking at how to reform the system – including how to support families to stay together safely.”

Contributor

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

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