The charity says that if schools close due to the virus then family incomes may be reduced as parents will have to stay home to care for their children and children cannot receive free school meals.
It is calling on the Government to increase child benefit by £10 a week for the duration of the pandemic, which it says would be the best way to get money to families with children quickly as the infrastructure already exists. The payments could be made through universal credit.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is urging the Government to suspend the two-child universal credit limit and benefit cap.
It also wants the Government to lift work search requirements for parents claiming universal credit in the event of school closure or where children have been told to stay home from school or nursery. CPAG says that there is already provision in universal credit legislation to do so.
CPAG is calling for a number of other measures to support families during what it calls a ‘time of national crisis’. While it says it welcomes the steps taken so far by the Government to support those on low-incomes, much more needs to be done, including:
- Making universal credit advances non-repayable.
- A temporary uplift in universal credit standard allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, employment support allowance and income support to help people who have to self-isolate.
- All sanctions and deductions to be lifted from people’s awards if they are self-isolating and/or people who are sanctioned and self-isolating to have automatic immediate access to a hardship payment.
- Clear written guidance for job centre staff on claimants who are self-isolating and therefore are not able to meet work-related requirements, including where there is a vulnerable member of the household other than the claimant.
A spokesperson for CPAG said, ‘We are in very uncertain times and the impact of COVID-19 will place additional financial pressures on families who are already struggling to get by. Families having to stay at home because of symptoms in the household, vulnerable household members or caring responsibilities may face falling incomes and need more support now.
‘In this pandemic, children’s needs will not be any less and, if schools close, many struggling families will lose the benefit of free school meals for their children.
‘This crisis has starkly exposed how precariously families on low incomes live. Longer term, the Government must do better to deliver secure and predictable benefit income and tackle child poverty.’
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said, 'We understand people who are required to stay at home or are infected by Coronavirus may need financial support, and quickly.
'Those affected will be able to apply for universal credit and can receive up to a month’s advance up front without physically attending a jobcentre.
'If you believe that you may have been infected, or have been in close contact with someone who has, please do not delay making a claim to universal credit. You should stay at home and apply at the earliest opportunity.'