More than a third of the UK’s poorest families have seen their already meagre incomes squeezed during the pandemic because they have had to spend more on food, gas and electricity, and home schooling, a study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found.
While UK household spending broadly dropped and financial savings increased during the Covid crisis, this was not the case for many low-income families, who saw basic living costs surge. While higher-income groups were able to save money they would ordinarily have spent on commuting, eating out or holidays – and often spent this windfall on luxuries – those in the lowest income cohort often struggled to make ends meet, the study found. Many poorer families found the extra costs of feeding and entertaining children at home pushed up spending when schools closed, as did the need to equip school-age sons and daughters with laptops and broadband access for online learning.
Normal coping strategies employed by poorer families – visiting friends and families for occasional meals, or using the library for free internet access, and charity shops for cheap clothes – became harder as a result of household mixing restrictions and the closure of libraries and non-essential retail.
The government had failed to provide effective support for the poorest families, it said, and with the third lockdown expected to last months, it urged ministers to retain the £20 pandemic top-up to universal credit beyond April, as well as boost other benefits for the low-paid.
“The study shines an unforgiving light on the absence of targeted, adequate support for families on a low income, who today face the combined insecurity of Covid-19 and increased financial pressure,” said the study. This added pressure came after years of weak growth in living standards for the poorest households, in turn leading to a general worsening of mental health, it added. It said: “Financial worries have been added to the general stress and anxiety of the pandemic for many families with children.”
Dr Ruth Patrick, a lecturer in social policy at the University of York, who leads the Covid Realities research programme said: “While the need for the lockdown is clear, there is an equally urgent need to address the additional financial pressures that families on a low-income face through greater income support to families with dependent children.”