URGENT action must be taken to protect the welfare of children affected by the pandemic, including suspending a controversial policy restricting child benefits, members of a council will hear.

A full meeting of Darlington Borough Council will consider a motion to press government to suspend the Universal Credit (UC) two child limit and the family benefit cap, after hearing even before the pandemic predictions were that 39 per cent of children in Darlington would be in poverty by next year.

The move follows the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield pressing the government to help mitigate the economic damage suffered by low-income families during the crisis.

The commissioner has pointed towards figures which show how 100,000 children have been lifted out of poverty by increases to UC since the crisis began, but there are still 200,000 more children in poverty as a result of the crisis.

Labour councillor Cyndi Hughes said the pandemic would affect children in the borough disproportionately as 6.6 per cent of working age residents claimed UC, whereas nationally it is 4.5 per cent. In addition, the number of people on UC in Darlington has risen by 1,598 over the past two months.

She said whilst the government had increased the UC standard allowance, working age benefits were still at their lowest level relative to average wages in several decades.

Cllr Hughes said: “There are currently 9,900 furloughed workers in Darlington. Changes to the furlough system and further business collapse and redundancy will inevitably lead to many furloughed workers joining those on UC over the next few months.

Furloughed workers have been receiving 80 per cent of their pre-crisis wage but - if they are made redundant- UC will only cover 53 per cent of their previous wage. Shoring up UC to help avoid increases in child poverty and economic insecurity must now be an urgent priority for government.”

She is also calling on councillors to pressure the government on UC conditions that prevent some vulnerable individuals from receiving support during the crisis.

The motion also includes a move to give families their first UC payment straight away, rather it involving a several week wait and a £10 per child weekly uplift in child benefit as the cost of raising a family during the crisis has risen.