Anit-poverty groups round on Chancellor for not ending benefits freeze early

Anti-poverty groups have condemned Chancellor Philip Hammond for not ending the benefits freeze early.

Mr Hammond used his Spring Statement to make clear that the controversial measure would continue, but there are no plans to repeat it.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said keeping the benefits freeze in place will leave impacted families £560 a year worse off on average.

The organisation said that was the equivalent of three months of food shopping for an average low-income family.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said it was “dismayed” by the Chancellor’s stance.

The freeze, which applies to universal credit, child benefit, tax credits, housing benefits, income support and some disability benefits, was created by former chancellor George Osborne and came into force in 2016.

The fourth and final year of the plan, starting on April 1, was signed off by MPs last week.

The House of Commons Library said typical parents in work with two children would be £1,845 better off in 2019/20 if it were not for the policy.

The JRF said the policy has pushed 200,000 people into poverty, with a report by the think tank putting the cost of lifting the freeze in 2019 at £1.4 billion.

JRF chief executive Campbell Robb said: “The Government should have shown today that it is serious about tackling the rising tide of poverty in the UK.

“Instead they chose not to end the freeze on benefits, leaving families in poverty to face rising costs and bear all the risks of economic uncertainty, especially if we leave the EU without a deal.

“In-work poverty is now rising faster than employment, yet the Government has opted not to help the 3.2 million children in low-income working families who would benefit from an early end to the freeze.

“The Treasury has offered some funding on projects to tackle period poverty, but these are the symptoms of a bigger issue – poverty itself. Families in poverty have been cut adrift.”

CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said: “Already the freeze has saved the Treasury more than was ever intended, so there can be no ongoing justification for these stealth cuts that mean that the poorest in society have borne the heaviest burden from paying off the deficit.

“The Chancellor could have sent a lifeline to low-income families.

“That he didn’t is evidence of ministers’ refusal to confront the reality that families have been left with too little money to live on after three long years of stagnant incomes and rising prices.

“As a country we want all families to prosper but the freeze has left low earners and those who can’t work out in the cold.

“Child poverty rates risk reaching a record high by the end of this parliament with 200,000 children tipped into poverty as a result of the freeze on children’s benefits alone.”

Mr Hammond told the Commons the four-year suspension on increasing payments was “one of the very many difficult decisions we have had to take”, but it will end next year.

The Chancellor said: “We’ve made it very clear we have no intention of repeating the current freeze. When it is over, increases in benefits will resume in line with CPI in the normal way.”

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