‘Poor families face food or clothes decision’

POOR families are having to choose between food or clothing for their children, Employment & Social Security has said, as it puts forward a proposal to remove the weekly income support limit.

(Picture by Shutterstock)
(Picture by Shutterstock)

If approved, 22 families, with 109 children between them, could benefit.

ESS president Peter Roffey said having an income limit applied to households on low incomes was unjustifiable.

‘Removing the limit of weekly income is a crucial step in aiding some of Guernsey’s most vulnerable families, particularly children,’ he said.

‘It is unjustifiable that a limit of income is applied to low-income households which often forces them to make impossible choices when paying for the most basic day-to-day necessities, like food or utility bills.’

The income support limit, or cap, is based on how much a household receives in total each week.

ESS has set the minimum a household requires in order to keep it from relative poverty, but some families, particularly those with several children, still fall short of this amount.

The proposal is included in ESS’s annual report on non-contributory benefits and follows a decision of the States last month to increase the limit from £930 to £980 from 7 October.

If approved, the limit will be removed from 2023.

It will apply to people living in the community, with those in residential or nursing homes still subject to caps.

The committee’s report said that the income cap forced families to choose between basic necessities and made them forego modest additional purchases completely.

‘In one case, this meant an income support claimant choosing between buying food for their family and replacing a pair of broken shoes for one of their children,’ wrote ESS.

In order to find out more about how people were coping it set up a focus group, which included people who claimed benefits.

Many said that their children had never left the Bailiwick and rarely celebrated birthdays or received even low-cost Christmas gifts on time, if at all.

‘Parents mentioned being unable to pay for even a modest, low-cost birthday party for their children, something many other families take for granted.’

Evidence was gathered from local groups who supported families, including Every Child Our Future and the Guernsey Welfare Service.

‘Adults in a family are prioritising their children’s health and wellbeing over their own which leads some to go without meals,’ ECOF is quoted as saying in the report.

Meanwhile, GWS said its food bank demand has risen from about 460 households up to 2020 to 584 last year and it was looking as if this year could see it reaching 600 or more.

Deputy Roffey said that there will still be controls on the level of income support available in the form of the requirement rates and the maximum rent allowances, while claimants will need to be in full-time work or ‘acting in compliance with individualised work requirements’.

ESS is also proposing inflation-linked increases of 7% to family allowance and severe disability benefits.

It also wants to see the maximum rent allowances for people on income support to increase by 7%, while a 10% increase in the weekly carer’s allowance rate is also being proposed.

Cap impact

Weekly income limit – £980 (from 7 October)

Number of claims with 3-7 children or more affected by the cap

Three – 1; Four – 8; Five – 9; Six – 2; Seven-plus – 2

Total claims: 22, total children: 109

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