Unless urgent changes are made to increase benefits and tax credits, and reform universal credit, the impact on poor families will be devastating, says Mike Stein. Meanwhile, David Higdon is shocked to find a woman at the checkout in tears

The Institute for Fiscal Studies research predicting increases in child poverty to 37% over the next five years lays bare the current role of fiscal welfare in exploiting the poorest members of society through punishment, deterrence and regulation (Benefit cuts to leave 5m children in poverty, 2 November). Unless urgent changes are made to increase benefit and tax credit levels and reform universal credit, the impact on poor parents will be devastating. Research from the Nuffield Foundation has shown that pressures of poverty are associated with more children being placed on child protection plans and removed from their families. The impact of these benefit cuts will be greatly intensified by the severity of the government’s austerity measures, including reductions in essential services to support vulnerable children, families and young people.
Mike Stein
Emeritus professor, University of York

I had a most upsetting encounter exchanging our Guardian token for the newspaper at our local Co-op last Friday. The lady in front of me noticed the lady on the checkout had been weeping and we asked if things were all right.

The response was a gush of tearful anguish. She had just heard she was now subject to universal credit and would not be paid for six weeks. She said: “I try so hard, I work part time and have a little girl; it’s always a struggle to manage … I’ve just discovered I won’t be able to get anything in time for Christmas.”

She said she’d rung Gateshead council, who suggested she should visit the food bank down in Blaydon.

I was shocked. I hadn’t realised the UC “rollout” could so spitefully target the Geordie tradition of “Christmas is for the bairns”.

Up to that point I’d merely rated the Nicholas Timmins article (Opinion, 1 November) about the passing of the welfare state as “an interesting analysis”. Now it affects our local community, I am angry.
David Higdon
Ryton, Tyne and Wear