More than 1m children from key worker families living in poverty, says TUC
More than a million children from households in the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic are living in poverty, according to new research published by the TUC.
The study found that one in five children of key workers in England, Scotland and Wales were living below the official breadline – rising to almost one in three in the worst-affected region, the north-east.
The TUC said low pay and insecure hours – widespread in occupations such as social care, supermarkets and delivery drivers – were the main reasons for in-work poverty among key workers.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “Every key worker deserves a decent standard of living for their family. But too often their hard work is not paying off like it should. And they struggle to keep up with the basic costs of family life.
“The prime minister has promised to ‘build back fairer’. He should start with our key workers. They put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going through the pandemic. Now, we must be there for them too.
“This isn’t just about doing the right thing by key workers. If we put more money in the pockets of working families, their spending will help our businesses and high streets recover. It’s the fuel in the tank that our economy needs.”
The report, prepared for the TUC by the consultancy Landman Economics and using the government definition of key workers, found that 29% of the children of key-worker households in the north-east were living in poverty, followed by London (27%), the West Midlands (25%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (25%). The lowest rates were in the east of England (15.5%) and the south-west (15.6%).
The TUC said that as well as pay and hours, high housing costs were reducing the amount of money key worker households could spend on groceries and utility bills. Support through universal credit, due to be cut by £20 a week in the autumn after a temporary pandemic uplift, was not enough to guarantee that families avoid poverty.
Current government policies were likely to increase child poverty rates, because as well as cutting universal credit ministers had capped pay rises for key workers in the public sectors, leading in some cases to cuts in wages when adjusted for inflation.
The TUC said these policies would put brakes on Britain’s recovery, because curbs on household spending would restrain business activity and have knock-on effects on wage growth for other workers.