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Report: UK family living standards dropping

Published: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

LONDON – Poor families in Britain are struggling to provide basics for their children as the cost of living rises faster than wages and benefits, research released by a charity Monday suggested.

The cost of raising a child during the first 18 years of life rose 4 percent to $230,376 last year, while average earnings rose 1.5 percent and safety net benefits rose 1 percent, according to the report from the Child Poverty Action Group.

"This research paints a stark picture of families being squeezed by rising prices and stagnant wages, yet receiving ever-diminishing support from the government over the course of the last year," said Alison Garnham, the group's chief executive. "Every parent knows it's getting harder to pay for the essentials their children need, and they don't feel like politicians see them as a priority."

The report comes as Britain's coalition government, elected in 2010, imposes tough austerity measures to reduce the nation's budget deficit. Those programs include limiting benefit increases to 1 percent annually for three years, forcing many low-income residents to pay local council tax for the first time, and a new fee for public housing tenants with spare bedrooms.

Treasury chief George Osborne has acknowledged that the recovery is taking "longer than anyone hoped," but says that tackling the deficit will be better for the country in the long run despite the short term pain.

Child poverty advocates argue that such measures hit families hard – and that safeguarding families should be the government's priority. Looking at the numbers in economic isolation without considering the impact of such policies on children won't help the economy, they say, because families under strain won't be able to spend in the local community or save for the future.

Low-income families have been hit especially hard by higher world commodity prices, because basic items such as groceries and heating bills take up a larger portion of their incomes, according to the report. Rising costs for public transportation and public housing also fall disproportionately on the poor.

At the same time, safety-net benefits were cut in real terms for the first time since the 1930s, rather than rising by at least the rate of inflation, the report said.

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