Boris Johnson has been blasted for considering plunging hundreds of thousands of children deeper into poverty by ending the £20-a-week uplift of Universal Credit.
Anne Longfield, the outgoing Children’s Commissioner said the Prime Minister’s claimed commitment to helping youngsters catch up after the pandemic was “not compatible” with cuts to the vital benefit.
She said she was “fed up” of hearing people in power saying they “don’t know” how to help vulnerable children.
And she called on the government to back Joe Biden-style funding boost, aimed at families and children.
She said: “President Biden is proposing a huge package of tax credits and benefits, aimed squarely at families with children. This is projected to halve child poverty in just a year. They know that children are the heart of our future economic success.
“Yet in the UK we’re on track to have the highest levels of child poverty since records began in the 1960s.”
The Government announced a temporary hike in its flagship welfare payment last March to help hard-up households battle the coronavirus crisis.
The rise is worth £1,040 a year for six million households but costs the Treasury £6billion annually.
It is due to be axed at the end of next month.
“Two weeks ago the Prime Minister said educational catch-up was the key focus of the entire Government,” Ms Longfield said in her final speech before stepping down at the end of the month.
“Yet we still don’t know if next month he is planning to take the Universal Credit uplift away from millions of families.
“The two positions aren’t compatible.
“If the Government is really focused on educational catch-up, it wouldn’t even countenance pushing 800,000 children into the type of devastating poverty which can have a much bigger impact on their life chances than the school they go to or the catch-up tuition they get.”
Ms Longfield urged politicians to “stop saying what can’t be done for children and put the full weight of government behind what can be done, with political will.”
“It will require our institutions to get out of the loop they are stuck in,” she said.
She added: “Too often officials tell ministers, “we don’t know how”, “we don’t have the data” or “it’s too expensive”. Vulnerable children stay in the “too difficult” box.
“But I’m fed up with hearing “we don’t know” from people whose job it is to know.
“Politicians on all sides must raise their level of ambition. I believe the public would support them if they did.”
Responding to Ms Longfield’s speech, a government spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children has been at the heart of our response to the pandemic, driven by our commitment to level up opportunities and outcomes.
“That’s why we have enabled the most vulnerable children to continue attending school in person, while providing laptops, devices and data packages to those learning at home and ensuring the most disadvantaged children are fed and warm.
“We have also driven forward crucial reform in adoption, in the care system, in post-16 education and in mental health support – and our long-term catch up plans and investment of over £1 billion will ensure we make up for lost time in education over the course of this Parliament.
“Anne Longfield has been a tireless advocate for children, and we’re grateful for her dedication and her challenge on areas where we can continue raising the bar for the most vulnerable.”