We must restore the value of children's benefits. Photo: Getty
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The minimum cost of raising a child to adulthood: £83,000

New research by Child Poverty Action Group shows that the cost of raising a child threatens to tip an increasing number of families into poverty.

Children cost. A lot. New research published today shows that raising a child from birth to 18 requires a minimum of £83,155 for a couple, and £96,905 for a lone parent family. (In case you are wondering, it costs a lone parent more than a couple to bring up a child because there is only one adult to make offsetting savings from their own living expenses).

There’s a lot going on behind this eye-watering figure. Part of the story is the well-known fact that costs are rising, and rising fast. The price of food – a quarter of the basic budget required for a child – has risen at 25 per cent in the last six years; housing continues to consume a growing share of a family’s budget; and the price of childcare – which can amount up to 45 per cent of the total cost of a child if both parents work full-time - continues to increase apace.

The other side of the story is equally well rehearsed. Family incomes remain under pressure as earnings flat-line and support from the state is cut back year on year. Unsurprisingly, the gap between the amount needed to raise a family and incomes is widening: a couple with both parents working full-time at national minimum wage is now 18 per cent shy of the income required to support two children at a minimum level. For an out-of-work couple, the shortfall is even more alarming: they lack 43 per cent of the necessary income to bring their children up adequately.

All this goes to the heart of why families with children have a higher risk of poverty than those without: children bring additional costs to a family while at the same time constraining parents’ earning power. Recently released figures show that 27 per cent of children live in poverty in the UK today, and this figure is set to rise. Yet the logical link between children’s costs and child poverty appears to have broken down in policy makers’ minds of late.

Rather than supporting families, child benefit will have been cut by almost 15 per cent in real terms over the course of this parliament, and the value of child tax credit has been set on a steady downward track too. While the government has announced a number of policies that help parents with costs at source – the extension of free school meals, for example, or additional nursery provision for very young children – the simple truth is these interventions do not come close to compensating families for the losses they have experienced as a result of austerity.

It’s clear there could be worse to come. It wasn’t that long ago that Ian Duncan Smith flew a kite proposing state support for families be capped at only two children to ensure claimants “cut their cloth in accordance with what capabilities and finances they have”. The idea hasn’t gone away: it emerged in a different guise only yesterday when a leading think-tank proposed that child benefit be tapered away with each additional child, and the over cap on benefits reduced to penurious levels.

By (falsely) pitting the ‘hard-working’ family against the ‘welfare-dependent’ in debates, the government has often tried to suggest a link between benefit receipt and irresponsibility with respect to family size that simply doesn’t exist. Is what we see creeping back into the political debate the age-old argument that poor people should not have children until they can afford them? When two parents working full time cannot net enough to cover the cost of a child, this could be a long wait...

Children are not a private luxury – they are a delight in themselves and an asset to the nation. Retreating from policies that help parents with the cost of children is a sure-fire way to degrade this asset by driving up child poverty. But the reverse is also true. If we want to put the UK back on the right trajectory with respect to child poverty – and polls suggest that many want just this – restoring the value of children’s benefits, and establishing a mechanism to maintain that value over time, has must be an essential part of the strategy.  

Lindsay Judge is senior policy and research officer for the Child Poverty Action Group.

Lindsay Judge is senior policy and research officer for the Child Poverty Action Group.

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Nobody's bargaining chips: How EU citizens are fighting back against Theresa May

Immigration could spike after Brexit, the Home Affairs select committee warned. 

In early July, EU citizens living in Scotland received some post from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The letters stated: “The immediate status of EU nationals living in Scotland has not changed and you retain all the same rights to live and to work here. I believe those rights for the longer term should be guaranteed immediately.”

The letters were appreciated. One Polish woman living on a remote Scottish island posted on social media: “Scottish Government got me all emotional yesterday.”

In reality, though, Sturgeon does not have the power to let EU citizens stay. That rests with the UK Government. The new prime minister, Theresa May, stood out during the Tory leadership contest for her refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens. Instead, she told Robert Peston: “As part of the [Brexit] negotiation we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU.”

As Home secretary in an EU member state, May took a hard line on immigration.  As PM in Brexit Britain, she has more powers than ever. 

In theory, this kind of posturing could work. A steely May can use the spectre of mass deportations to force a hostile Spain and France to guarantee the rights of British expat retirees. Perhaps she can also batter in the now-locked door to the single market. 

But the attempt to use EU citizens as bargaining chips may backfire. The Home Affairs select committee warned that continued policy vagueness could lead to a surge in immigration – the last thing May wants. EU citizens, after all, are aware of how British immigration policy works and understand that it's easier to turn someone back at the border than deport them when they've set up roots.

The report noted: “Past experience has shown that previous attempts to tighten immigration rules have led to a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force.”

It recommended that if the Government wants to avoid a surge in applications, it must choose an effective cut-off date for the old rules, whether that is 23 June, the date Article 50 is triggered, or the date the UK finally leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, EU citizens, many of whom have spent decades in the UK, are pursuing tactics of their own. UK immigration forms are busy with chatter of UK-based EU citizens urging one another to "get your DCPR" - document certifying permanent residence - and other paperwork to protect their status. More than 1,000 have joined a Facebook group to discuss the impact of the referendum, with hot topics including dual nationality and petitions for a faster naturalisation process. British citizens with foreign spouses are trying to make the most of the "Surinder Singh" loophole, which allows foreign spouses to bypass usual immigration procedures if their British partner is based in another EU country. 

Jakub, a classical musician originally from Poland, is already thinking of how he can stay in the UK, where there are job opportunities for musicians. 

But he worries that although he has spent half a decade in the UK, a brief spell two years ago back in Poland may jeopardise his situation.“I feel a new fear,” he said. “I am not sure what will happen next.”