'We have got to save the children' - rising child poverty as families face huge pressures

 Pictured are Maureen Reynel (top) and Amanda Bloomfield who run foodbanks in Suffolk

There are more than 36,000 children in Suffolk in households receiving Universal Credit (UC). Pictured are Maureen Reynel (top) and Amanda Bloomfield who run foodbanks in Suffolk - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Archant

More than 36,000 children are now living in households on Universal Credit (UC) in Suffolk, new statistics reveal - highlighting the "dire straits" some families are in.

The number of children in the county in UC households has gone up from 31,324 in August last year to 36,650 in August 2021 - a percentage change of 17% - according to the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

This latest figure includes 17,795 children who are aged 0 to four.

Across Suffolk, there were 19,633 households with children that are receiving UC (in August), an upward percentage change of 14% compared with the previous August.

Families have been struggling to manage the £20 weekly cut to UC as well as rising living costs, and Christmas looms around the corner.

The Child Poverty Action Group, which is a national charity, is calling for greater investment in children's benefits, which Maureen Reynel MBE, founder of an Ipswich foodbank, agrees is needed.

In Ipswich, there are 5,329 UC households with children (for August) - a figure that has been rising in every Suffolk local authority area, as well as in north Essex.

Maureen Reynel MBE, founder of FIND foodbank in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Maureen Reynel MBE, founder of FIND foodbank in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Mrs Reynel, of FIND (Families in Need), said she was getting more and more referrals from families with children.

"We have got to rescue these kids. It's awful for them. On the other side we have families saying 'can my child come and help?' 

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"Joe public is very aware people are in dire straits."

She spoke of the pressure Christmas places on families, who don't want their children missing out, and added: "It's panic time of the year."

FIND Founder Maureen Reynel MBE Picture: RACHEL EDGE

FIND founder Maureen Reynel said some families they are helping don't have electricity at home - Credit: Archant

"If they are referred to FIND then nobody will go without," she said. "Nobody will go hungry and if there are children who probably won't get a gift we will make sure they have something. That's what FIND has always done."

She said some families being referred to FIND for food parcels don't even have any electricity at home.

She added: "We have got to save the children. They are the next generation. We have got to give them a bit of quality of life."

She said last year FIND gave out about 8,000 food parcels and she expects the figure to be higher this year.

Amanda Bloomfield Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Gatehouse chief executive Amanda Bloomfield said the need is greater this year than last - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Amanda Bloomfield, chief executive of the Gatehouse, which runs a foodbank in Bury St Edmunds, said her charity was already distributing more food parcels than last year and they are looking to give out 600 Christmas hampers in 2021, compared to just over 500 for Christmas 2020.

She said: "Certainly what we have seen so far over the last five/six weeks is higher need than last year and we are yet to hit any real cold spell."

She said increased fuel costs, heading into winter and the loss of the UC £20 a week meant more people were seeking their services, which had already been in extra demand during the pandemic.

In West Suffolk, there are 4,144 UC households with children (August 2021).

Suffolk County Councillor Sandy Martin said he was "very concerned" about the Universal Credit statistics 

Suffolk County Councillor Sandy Martin said he was "very concerned" about the Universal Credit statistics - Credit: Archant

Sandy Martin, deputy leader of the Labour Group on Suffolk County Council, said he was "very concerned" about these statistics.

He said if people were earning more money they would not have to rely on UC, and UC needed to be enough to ensure children could get "square meals and a safe, warm house".

He believes in raising minimum wage, bringing back the £20 UC uplift and and removing the cap, as well as restoring the value of children's benefits.

Amanda Bloomfield is the chief executive of Gatehouse Caring and was at the food bank in Bury St Edm

Amanda Bloomfield said this year they are providing more Christmas hampers than last year - Credit: Suffolk Community Foundation

Child Poverty Action Group wants the value of children’s benefits – including child benefit and the child allowances in UC and tax credits - to be restored to stop more children from being pulled into poverty. 

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Many families on universal credit in the East of England will not be able to plug the gap left by the £20 cut which comes just as all families are facing big cost pressures.  

"Children’s benefits are a minimum protection for kids but their value has been eroded by cuts and freezes - and child poverty is rising. Families need government support - and the best place to start is by increasing investment in children’s benefits.”

The government's response

A government spokesperson said: “This government is committed to supporting families and people in need, we have provided billions of additional welfare support through the pandemic and continue to do so.

“Work is the best route out of poverty and the changes we have made to Universal Credit will see nearly two million working claimants better off by around £1,000 a year. The most vulnerable, including those who can’t work, can get additional benefits, and help with essential costs is available through our new £500 million support fund.”

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