Thousands of Lancaster families face benefits freeze

File photo dated 11/06/13 of a general view of notes and coins as parents face a growing struggle as the cost of bringing up a child has risen to �148,000, research found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 19, 2013. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said that the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has gone up by 4% over the last year. But the value of benefits for families and children only rose by 1%, and child benefit did not rise at all, tightening the squeeze on living standards. At the same time minimum wages rose 1.8% and average earnings by 1.5%, making it harder for parents to provide a decent standard of living for their families. See PA story SOCIAL Poverty. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/06/13 of a general view of notes and coins as parents face a growing struggle as the cost of bringing up a child has risen to �148,000, research found. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday August 19, 2013. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said that the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has gone up by 4% over the last year. But the value of benefits for families and children only rose by 1%, and child benefit did not rise at all, tightening the squeeze on living standards. At the same time minimum wages rose 1.8% and average earnings by 1.5%, making it harder for parents to provide a decent standard of living for their families. See PA story SOCIAL Poverty. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

More then 8,500 families in Lancaster face a four year freeze to their benefits, according to research by a children’s charity.

The Children’s Society say that 16,000 children in both working and out of work families across the district face being pushed further into poverty as living costs continue to rise.

Lancaster MP Cat Smith said the figures were “shocking” and that she regularly meets families in Lancaster and Fleetwood already struggling to pay their bills, rent and food costs.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said the balance between benefits and earnings needed to be addressed.

The figures show that of the 8,500 families, 5,900 are in work and receive benefits to top up low pay.

The charity says that freezing Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Job Seekers’ Allowance – rather than raising them in line with living costs – could see affected families losing up to 12 per cent from the real value of their benefits and tax credits by 2020.

The changes are expected to impact various family types, for example a 23-year-old primary school teacher and single mum-of-two renting their home could be worse off by £239 per month (£2,868 per year).

Ms Smith said: “It’s shocking to see the numbers calculated by The Children’s Society about the impact of the Conservative government’s decisions on the lives of children and families locally.

“Every week I meet local families who are already struggling to meet their bills, rents, and food bills - the freeze in support for things like child tax credits will only exacerbate this.”

But Mr Morris said: “It appears that only the benefit aspect of the income of the working families has been taken into consideration.

“We cannot be at a point where benefits have risen by 21 per cent since 2008 and earnings only by 2011, we need to readdress the balance which is being done by a raise in the personal tax allowance to £11,000 next year, and the introduction of a national living wage in 2016 which will mean someone currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by a third by 2020.”

The Children’s Society said that the introduction of a higher minimum wage might increase household incomes by 2020, but other changes will cancel out any gains by significantly cutting key support for many families.

The freeze forms part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which was debated in Parliament on Tuesday February 23.

Young parents and families with disabled children claiming Universal Credit for the first time are particularly likely to lose out, the charity has warned.