Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The non-uprating of child benefits - impact on poverty gaps

Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Social Policy Research Unit, nor of the University of York.
Jonathan Bradshaw and Lindsay Judge write in an article for the North East Child Poverty Commission Blog:

This note attempts to illustrate the impact that uprating benefits in line with prices since 2010 would have had on the poverty gap of a low wage family in 2014/15.
It is based on the tax/benefit model developed and maintained by Professor Steve Wilcox and mainly used for the annual UK Housing Review. The model simulates the net disposable income of different family types using different earnings levels, given the existing tax and benefit rules. In this note we have taken one family type – a couple with two children, with one earner, working a range of hours on the minimum wage (from October 2014 £6.50 per hour), the living wage (outside London) as at October 2014 (£7.85 per hour) and £10 per hour. The net disposable income after direct taxes, net rent and net council tax are deducted,  is compared with the after housing costs poverty threshold for a couple plus two children in 2012/13 £364 per week. We do not yet know what the poverty threshold is for 2013/14 or 2014/15. It is unlikely to be very different given what has been happening to benefits and earnings over that period.
A number of assumptions are included in the model:
  • Rent= £120 per week.
  • Council Tax=£28.95 per week. Council Tax Benefit is assumed to be calculated on the basis of the old national scheme3.
  • The 30 hours bonus for Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit is included after 30 hours.
Base line results
Figure 1 shows the results for the minimum wage case working between 24 and 45 hours per week. The red horizontal line is the poverty threshold. The items below the zero line are deduction from earnings including income tax and national insurance contributions, rent net of housing benefit and council tax net of council tax benefit. Then above the zero line are earnings net of these deductions, child benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit. The poverty gap is the gap between the top of the bars and the poverty threshold. Even working 40 hours per week this family is £25 short of the poverty threshold.
Figure 1: Minimum wage case
graph showing poverty gap (minimum wages case)
The Living Wage and the £10 per hour cases are presented in Figures 2 and 3. It can be seen that in neither case does the net income reach the poverty threshold. The increase in earnings is offset by losses of means-tested benefits and tax credits and extra income tax and national insurance contributions. At 40 hours per week the poverty gaps are £23.23 for the Living Wage case and £19.64 for the £10 per hour case.
The numbers for these and all the figures are given in the appendix.
Figure 2: Living wage case
graph showing poverty gap (Living wage case)
Figure 3: £10 per hour case
graph showing poverty gap (£10/hour case)
Simulating inflation uprating
CPAG4 has made estimates of what child benefit and child tax credit would have been if they had been uprated since 2010 in line with the RPI and the CPI and in the case of child tax credit if the Chancellor had not reneged on his promise in 2010 to uprate child tax credit by more than inflation. These estimates have been used to adjust child benefit upwards by 13% and child tax credits upwards by 8.5%. Working tax credit has also been uprated by 9.5%5 in Figure 4. The net income is still below the poverty threshold but the poverty gap has now fallen to £7.80 for 40 hours.
Figure 4: Minimum wage case with inflation uprating of child benefit and tax credits
graph showing poverty gap (Minimum wage plus uplift case)
However this does not take account of the non-uprating of housing benefits and council tax benefit scales. In Figure 5 these are uprated by 5.6%. The poverty gap at 40 hours has now fallen to £3.28.
Figure 5: Minimum wage case with inflation uprating of all benefits and tax credits
graph showing poverty gap (Minimum wage plus full uplift case)
Families with children with one earner in full-time employment on low earnings cannot reach the poverty threshold. Even if they earn £10 an hour, their net income is short of the poverty threshold because of the very high marginal tax rates in our highly means-tested tax and benefit system. This is why over two-thirds of poor children have a parent in employment. Increasing wage rates without tackling the UK’s high marginal deduction rates is not an effective solution to child poverty.
In-work benefits are much more effective but their effectiveness has been undermined by the Coalition Government decision to freeze child benefit for three years from 2011 and uprate it and tax credits and other working-age benefits by 1% from 2013. The poverty gap for a 40 hour a week minimum wage family increased from £3.28 per week to £25.32 per week. Thus those who were working poor have become poorer.
APPENDIX: Data tables