The independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has today published a briefing urging the Government to go further to protect people on low incomes from the impact of coronavirus.
The Government has rightly committed to several bold and compassionate measures that will offer security to many businesses and employees. But new data published today by the DWP shows that the country entered the pandemic period with 14.5 million people already living in poverty, including 8.1 million people in working families. The data also shows average incomes of the poorest fifth of people have been falling since 2016/17. Many people in poverty have not yet been offered the lifeline they need to weather this storm.
JRF is now calling on the Government to make sure everyone in or at risk of poverty across the country is offered this same security.
The pandemic has brought into focus the crucial contribution many people in low-paid jobs make to our society. Those working in food retail, delivery, health and social care are being called on as key workers to discharge vital frontline services, and we are rightly recognising their contribution to keeping our country going. We must now put the right support in place to make sure they get the support they need to keep their heads above water.
The current situation has also highlighted the importance of a robust safety net we can all rely on when times get tough. Government has taken some steps to strengthen our social security system, but JRF is calling for more bold action to make sure we can all support each other through these difficult times.
The briefing sets out three key recommendations:
• Provide people with the security of staying in work by extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to workers taking time off work for childcare or to self-isolate, and extending the Scheme to those reducing working hours as well as those who are being granted a leave of absence (‘furloughed’).
• Get more money into people’s pockets by increasing the level of Statutory Sick Pay to align with the Job Retention Scheme and extending eligibility to low earners. Provide urgent support to the self-employed on a par with the Job Retention Scheme, and strengthen the social security system by increasing Universal Credit payments and suspending benefit deductions.
• Make sure people can meet their housing costs and stay in their homes by offering renters real protection from eviction, and temporarily increasing the Local Housing Allowance to cover median rents.
Further detail is in the full briefing which is available here.
Helen Barnard, Deputy Director of Policy & Partnerships at JRF said:
“The Government has rightly recognised that we all want to support each other through these very difficult times, with a significant package of support for workers and some boosts to social security.
“But many people living in poverty, who are already struggling against a tide of low wages, high costs and inadequate social security, will not be feeling the impact of these measures. Our Government can act now to provide more targeted support that will get money in the pockets of people who are really feeling the pressure.
“This pandemic is a time of fear and anxiety for all of us, but we can take comfort from our shared values – now more than ever, we want to pull together as a country and show compassion to those who need help.”
JRF media relations: 07866152942 / [email protected]