Already struggling families have been hit hardest by the virus (Image: Daily Mirror)

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The poorest families face “another damaging decade” without urgent action to alleviate the economic hit of the pandemic.

A damning report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found families already in poverty are starting 2021 reeling from a triple financial blow.

Falling incomes pre-pandemic and the decrease in value of benefit payments left many financially exposed before the pandemic hit, the report said.

The poorest were then worst affected by Covid-19 as they were most likely to hold frontline jobs.

Younger workers were more likely to have been furloughed or made redundant as they tended to work in hard-hit sectors such as accommodation, hospitality and retail, the report said.

Workers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were 14% more likely to lose their jobs and 13% less likely to be furloughed, while 45% of disabled people in employment at the start of 2020 reported no earnings by the middle of the year.

With the added shock of a third long lockdown, many will find it much harder to recover, the JRF warned.

Many will find it much harder to recover
(Image: Getty Images)

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It said ministers must make tackling poverty an economic priority in 2021 or they risk being defined by a record of worsening hardship.

This includes keeping the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit payments beyond the end of March and extending the uplift to those on legacy benefits.

JRF Director Helen Barnard said: “It is a damning indictment of our society that those with the least have suffered the most before the pandemic and are now being hit hardest once again by the pandemic.

“The Government must now make the right decisions to avoid another damaging decade.

“It’s unacceptable that certain groups are bearing the brunt of the economic impact of Covid-19 and are now reeling from the latest blow of this third lockdown.”

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In 2018/19, 14.5 million people were in poverty in the UK – more than one in five of the population.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond to ensure that nobody is left behind.

“That’s why we’ve targeted our support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and introducing the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”