England’s Children’s Commissioner has spoken of the “huge moral case” for supporting young people after reports the Chancellor is considering real-terms cuts to benefits, which charities have described as “unthinkable” for the poorest families.
Dame Rachel de Souza said now is “a really big moment for us as a nation to support our children and back our children”, when asked about the possibility of Jeremy Hunt breaking with tradition by not raising welfare payments in line with inflation in his autumn financial statement to free up cash for tax cuts ahead of the next election.
The Child Poverty Action Group branded the prospect “simply unthinkable” while Action for Children said such a move could “be a tipping point for many families living in poverty”.
The charity’s chief executive Alison Garnham described it as asking the poorest families “to pay through benefit cuts for balancing the books/paying for tax cuts”.
In a statement, she said: “With child poverty rising and kids already having to endure hunger, there is no credible or moral case for a real-terms cut in benefits.”
In an interview with the PA news agency, Dame Rachel said she “absolutely will” be making the case to Government of the need for more and better support for children.
She said: “Of course I’m going to ask the Chancellor for more money for children. I’ll be making that case very, very clearly.
“For me there’s a huge moral case that we need to support children, just as we need to support everyone in the country, but for me children are at the centre of that.”
Asked if not raising welfare payments in line with inflation would result in children suffering, she said: “I think children are. I think the Government has, post-pandemic, put more money into services for children but the need is even greater.”
She added: “I think it’s a really big moment for us as a nation to support our children and back our children.
At the weekend, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declined to rule out real-terms cuts to benefits.
Benefits are usually raised in line with September’s consumer price index measure for inflation.
But reports suggested that Mr Hunt could point towards forecasts that inflation will be far lower in April, when the payments hike would come into effect.
Speaking to broadcasters at the G20 summit in New Delhi, Mr Sunak said there is a legal process that is worked through “every year to do benefits uprating and a whole host of other things”.
“And those decisions are announced at the autumn statement, that’s entirely normal,” he said.
As the Prime Minister sought to “reassure” those struggling with the cost of living, he pointed to the extra support already put in place to help with energy payments and other bills.
“So people should be reassured that that extra support is there for the most vulnerable in our society at a time which I know is difficult and that’s why we have to bring inflation down,” he said.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Failing to raise benefits in line with inflation would be a real terms cut and would be a tipping point for many families living in poverty, who are desperately clinging on despite soaring prices and stagnating wages.
“The Government’s 2019 manifesto committed them to using the tax and benefit system to reduce child poverty, not to increase it.
“Since 2010, the real value of benefits has fallen behind both inflation and earnings. That’s not right or sustainable. Increasing the child element of Universal Credit by £15 a week and scrapping the benefit cap would lift 320,000 children out of poverty.”