The Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank has called on the Government to raise Universal Credit to stop child poverty compounding the "human suffering" of the coronavirus pandemic, following an increase in the proportion of children in low-income families across Great Britain.
A family is defined as low-income if they earn less than 60 per cent of the median income – a measure of average earnings which takes the middle point – before housing costs are taken into account, which is currently £308 per week.
In Falkirk, 18.1 per cent of children under 16 were living in families with relative low incomes in 2018-19, Department for Work and Pensions figures show.
That was an increase compared to the 17.6 per cent recorded in 2017-18, and means 5106 children in the area now come from low-income families.
A family has to have claimed Universal Credit, Tax Credits or Housing Benefit at some point in the year to be counted in the statistics.
Across Great Britain, the proportion of children belonging to families on low incomes rose slightly to 18.4 per cent in 2018-19, compared to 18.2 per cent the year before.
This amounts to 2.3 million children throughout Britain, which the Children's Society said should "appal us all".
Dr Sam Royston, director of policy and research at the charity, said: "Living in poverty has a hugely damaging effect on children’s lives, leaving them more likely to experience low well-being, poor mental health and with poorer future prospects.
“Without substantial intervention the coronavirus will undoubtedly unleash further harm to the poorest in society. There is no time to waste."
The charity is calling for the Government to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit, suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition which stops many families from accessing benefits, and make a long-term commitment to local welfare assistance.
The DWP figures show huge variation across Great Britain, with 38 per cent of children under 16 in low income families in Oldham, Greater Manchester, the worst-affected area. Excluding the City of London, which is home to just a few hundred children, Elmbridge, in Surrey, had the lowest proportion at just six per cent.
Helen Barnard, acting director of the think tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said an uplift of £20 per week for families with children claiming Universal Credit would keep many from being pulled into poverty.
She added: "Children growing up in poverty are locked out of opportunities and unable to take part in society to the same extent as their peers. As a compassionate society, we cannot accept this.
“The coronavirus crisis has shown us that we want to support each other and protect each other from harm.
“By taking action now, we can ensure that the human suffering of this tragic pandemic is not compounded by rising child poverty, damaging life chances and holding a generation back in the years to come.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is a very challenging time which is why we have repeatedly called upon the UK Government to make urgent changes to the benefit system, and continue to urge them to reverse their welfare cuts, by removing the benefit cap, bedroom tax, and two child limit, as well as increasing the Child Element of Universal Credit.
"It is vital that the UK Government match our efforts and take the necessary steps to ensure the benefit system is fit for purpose and is able to work for people who need it.
“We know that families are under pressure just now as they cope with the impact of COVID-19.
"That is why we have committed a further £27.6 million to support to those in need, including the extension of Free School Meals over the summer period that will benefit around 175,000 children and young people.
"This direct support is in addition to the £350 million package of communities funding, which included more than doubling the investment available for our Scottish Welfare Fund."
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