New research from Loughborough University – carried out before the coronavirus lockdown – shows that members of the public consider a good internet connection, a laptop and subscriptions to various online services as important for allowing families to participate in society.
The report, published today (JULY 8), sets out the Minimum Standard Income (MIS) – a basket of goods which includes food, clothing, entertainment, transport and other living costs, which members of the public believe families should be able to afford in order to reach a minimum acceptable standard of living in 2020.
To reach the MIS level, a single person needs to earn at least £19,200 a year, while a couple with two children relying on tax credits each need to earn £18,700.
However, about 19 million people in the UK (one-in-four) have too little to reach this threshold.
Project leader Abigail Davis said: “Our research shows that, even before the coronavirus lockdown, parents emphasised the need for connectivity and the importance of being able to support children’s educational needs within the home.
“This year, for example, a one device subscription to Netflix and an Xbox Live account were added, reflecting the ways in which every day recreational and communication needs require online services.
“Parents in our research said that being able to play games and interact with their friends using consoles had become an everyday part of social interaction for children.
“Families unable to access adequate technological resources are likely to be at an increasing disadvantage under current circumstances.
“For example, online interaction with a school is likely to be difficult using a mobile phone rather than a laptop, particularly on a contract with relatively low data download limits”
While it is not yet possible to estimate how many people have been brought below the Minimum Income Standard as a result of the pandemic, millions have seen a substantial reduction in their incomes, with the number relying on Universal Credit for help doubling to over five million since February this year.
The Government has increased support through the benefits system, giving stronger backup to those on low or no earnings than previously, and introducing meal vouchers for the summer holidays.
The report authors suggest that while more people are presently suffering from income reductions, in the longer term the improvements in Government support could help reduce the numbers with inadequate incomes, if the COVID-related increases were made permanent.
Professor Donald Hirsch, one of the report’s co-authors, said: “This crisis has shone a spotlight on the struggle faced by people receiving state benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit, which have fallen in real terms in recent years.
“More people are now relying on this help, and at the start of the crisis, the Chancellor pledged to strengthen the safety net.
“The resulting increases to Universal Credit and tax credits, alongside a rising minimum wage, means that people who can get work are less likely than previously to have inadequate incomes.
“For example, a couple with two young children receiving Universal Credit can almost reach the Minimum Income Standard if one parent works full time and one part-time on the National Living Wage (the minimum wage for over-25s), whereas without the additional Universal Credit they would be £20 a week short. This is the first time that it has been possible to reach MIS with this working pattern.
“The Government has said that the additional help will be temporary. Yet by acknowledging the need to strengthen the safety net, it has implicitly recognised that benefit levels are inadequate.
“As clear evidence of family needs has emerged during the crisis, there is now a case for making it permanent: these needs will not go away when the pandemic ends.
“This is an opportunity to start to reverse a decade of austerity, making it possible for more working families to reach a decent living standard.
“The alternative is to return to benefit levels that have been shown to be inadequate, so that those who fall on hard times feel abandoned or excluded.”
Since 2008, the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) has shown how much households need for a minimum socially acceptable standard of living, as specified by members of the public in ongoing research.
The latest research was completed in March 2020, just before lockdown.
Future studies will investigate the extent to which the pandemic has changed what people consider the minimum required to meet material needs and participate in society.
To read the full report, visit the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website, here.