THE BLOG

Families Needed Bringing Back From the Brink

04/12/2014 12:58 GMT | Updated 02/02/2015 10:59 GMT

As the Chancellor rose to his feet this afternoon to deliver the last Autumn Statement of this Parliament, he had a real opportunity in front of him - a chance to set out both a bold vision for the longer term and to help families struggling now.

While some may be feeling the benefits of economic recovery, we know that those on the lowest incomes are yet to feel a difference. At a time when wages have either stagnated or fallen (11% since 2008), the cost of the necessities of family life have soared - a toxic combination which paints a bleak picture of everyday life for many families across the country.

Of course those on good salaries have been able to "tighten their belts", make lifestyle changes and may now feel as though the worst is over. But for those already on low incomes, they are not worried about foregoing luxuries - but the essentials.

And it's no wonder they're struggling. Since 2008, we've seen the price of food rise by almost 50%. The cost of both heating and lighting our homes has doubled and the average family is now spending over a third of their disposable income on childcare.

The reality which faced the Chancellor today is that lower income families are having to resort to borrowing to cover the basics. One in ten has borrowed to cover food and a quarter of families has resorted to borrowing to cover the costs of childcare. These families are getting into a cycle of debt simply in order to live their lives. With 2.5 million already stuck in a debt trap and 3 million more on the edge of one, we are seeing significant economic problems being stored up for the future - for both families and the country.

So what did George Osborne do this afternoon to make a difference, and what didn't he do?

It is welcome that the Chancellor today extended the Childcare Business Grant scheme to 2016 in order to support more childcare places and child minders. However families will be disappointed that he didn't go further to provide the help with childcare costs families need.

In a modern economy good quality, affordable childcare is a necessity. The Chancellor could have set out a bold vision for the long term - towards universal childcare in ten years' time - while helping families now who are struggling with costs. 4Children wants to see school doors opening for longer and 25 hours of free childcare for 1-4 year olds - helping family budgets recover from the hit they've taken and supporting mothers back into the labour market.

For the good of families, and the wider economy, the Chancellor should have put forward a set of measures to help get those who are struggling back on their feet and escape or prevent many on the brink from entering into a toxic cycle of debt.

We would have liked to see the freeze on child benefit for those with under-fives reversed - a small change for many on paper, but one which could have a real impact on those who are just about getting by.

Finally, with the working poor stuck in a revolving door of jobs and poverty and with self-employment on the increase, while their average wages have fallen by 20%, we need to make work pay. Freezing working allowances for Universal Credit will only make life harder. Wage increases for the poorest should have been incentivised, helping them to stay in the work that we know is the best route out of poverty and instability.

We need to Make Britain Great for children and families, responding to these difficulties so many low income families are faced with would have been a good place to start.