THE growing struggle faced by working families to make ends meet is laid bare by a new report which shows the cost of raising children is rapidly outstripping wages and support from the Government.
Parents now need to spend at least £148,000 to bring up a child to the age of 18, a figure that has risen by four per cent in the last year as average earnings grew by just 1.5 per cent.
The costs of childcare for working parents have increased by close to six per cent in the last year while child benefit has been frozen since 2011 and has been withdrawn this year from any family where one person has an income of more than £60,000.
The report suggests that couples working full-time, each earning the average wage of just over £22,000, only just have enough to ensure the needs of two young children are met.
Katie Schmuecker, policy and research manager at the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation which co-funded the study, said: “This research looks at how much it costs parents to give their children a standard of living that the public think is the minimum acceptable.
“The task of making ends meet for families with children has always been hard, but is getting harder, and balancing family budgets has become a perilous and delicate act for hard-pressed parents.
“Flat lining wages, cuts to benefits and tax credits and the rising cost of essentials is creating a growing gap between income and needs.
“The next election is likely to be the first since the 1930s where living standards are lower than the last poll. All parties must go to the country with policies and a commitment to help the prospects of low-income families.”
The report is published by the Child Poverty Action Group as the political debate starts to shift away from whether the UK economy is recovering after two quarters of growth and signs of improvement in the housing market.
Attention is now turning to whether families are feeling the benefit.
While consistent economic growth has proved elusive in recent years, the headline rate of inflation has remained stubbornly high.
Shadow Treasury Minister Cathy Jamieson said: “This damning report shows the consequences of David Cameron’s cost of living crisis.
“The Tories are out of touch and it’s families who are out of pocket – instead of giving millionaires a huge tax cut, the Government should be doing everything it can to help families with the cost of living.
“The Government has targeted cuts in support for families including child benefit and tax credits, and prices have risen faster than wages in 37 out of the 38 months since the Tories have been in Downing Street. With child care costs rising too it’s getting ever tougher for parents trying to make ends meet in David Cameron’s Britain.”
But the Government insisted it was taking action to support families feeling the pinch.
A Government spokesman said: “We know times are tough, and we are securing a recovery for everyone who wants to work hard.
“That is why we are taking action to help families with the cost of living by cutting income tax for 25 million people, which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, taking 2.7 million out of income tax altogether and freezing council tax for five years, saving a typical household £600.
“Furthermore, our measures to fix the welfare system with the introduction of the Universal Credit will make three million households better off – the majority of these from the bottom two fifths of the income scale – and lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.”