More means less

Anabel Unity Sale reports on how the system of child benefits and tax credits can penalise families with more children

Thirty-seven per cent of four-child families and 55 per cent of families with five or more children live in poverty whereas only 12 per cent of families with one or two children are poor, according to research from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published this summer.(1)

So poverty among large families is not merely a problem of having more mouths to feed. One significant factor impacting on a large family’s income is the increased childcare costs they face. The maximum a working parent can claim through the childcare element of the working tax credit is £175 a week for one child, and £300 a week for two or more children.

Childcare costs
Emma Knight, co-chief executive of childcare charity the Daycare Trust , says this amount is often not enough to meet all the childcare costs for families with higher numbers of children. She adds having access to childcare is especially important for large families, as they tend to have more children aged under five.

Another demand emptying the purses of large families is the amount they spend on their children’s school uniforms and activities, as well as transporting them to school.

End Child Poverty campaign director Hilary Fisher says she knows of parents who make 30-mile round trips to take their children to their various schools and who cannot afford to send them on school trips.

Although there are a number of initiatives aimed at preventing families from becoming socially excluded, some benefit rules make life more difficult for larger families. One of these is child benefit, which a parent can claim if they have a child aged under 16 or between 16 and 18 and at school or college full-time. Child benefit is worth £17.45 for the first child but just  £11.70 for all other children.

Level playing field
In August the Child Poverty Action Group launched the Make Child Benefit Count  campaign to get the government to bring child benefit for all children up to the same level.

The campaign is made up of a consortium of 40 organisations including the Daycare Trust and End Child Poverty.

Paul Dornan, CPAG head of policy and research, says paying the same rate for subsequent children would benefit four million families with two or more children.

He says: “Child benefit and child tax credits are the twin foundations of supporting poor large families.” The government’s pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020 is well documented and Dornan believes it is achievable; especially if action is taken to improve the lives of poorer large families.

As Fisher explains: “If you help a large family then you are helping several children out of poverty at once.”

(1) The Economic Position of Large Families, Research Report 358, Department for Work and Pensions, July 2006

Large Family Report Findings
● Employment disadvantage is more important than family size in pushing families into poverty.
● Parents of large families tend to have lower rates of employment, work fewer hours and earn less per hour than parents of smaller families.
● Mothers with one child earn £9.20 per hour compared with £7.50 for mothers of five or more children; fathers in three-child families earn £13.60 per hour while fathers of five children earn £11.40 per hour.

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