Child poverty numbers rise by 100,000 in 12 months

Experts warn 5.2 million children could be living below the breadline by 2022.

Homeless child in a doorway

New government figures show the number of children living in poverty in the UK has risen by 100,000 to 4.2 million in the past 12 months.

As reported by 24housing in 2019, child poverty figures revealed a rise in the number of children from working families living in poverty –  an increase of 833,000 children since 2010.

With the Coronavirus outbreak dominating the UK, charities warn the pandemic will make the situation even more miserable for families – warning 5.2 million children could be living below the breadline within two years.

According to the data, the country entered the pandemic period with 14.5 million people already living in poverty, including 8.1 million people in working families. 

The data also shows average incomes of the poorest fifth of people have been falling since 2016/17. 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is now calling on the government to make sure everyone in or at risk of poverty across the country is offered this same security.

In a briefing set out by the charity, key recommendations to government include:

  • Provide people with the security of staying in work by extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to workers taking time off work for childcare or to self-isolate
  • Extend the Scheme to those reducing working hours as well as those who are being granted a leave of absence (‘furloughed’)
  • Increase the level of Statutory Sick Pay to align with the Job Retention Scheme and extending eligibility to low earners
  • Provide urgent support to the self-employed on a par with the Job Retention Scheme, and strengthen the social-security system by increasing Universal Credit payments and suspending benefit deductions
  • Make sure people can meet their housing costs and stay in their homes by offering renters real protection from eviction, and temporarily increasing the Local Housing Allowance to cover median rents

Helen Barnard, deputy director of Policy and Partnerships at JRF, said: “The government has rightly recognised that we all want to support each other through these very difficult times, with a significant package of support for workers and some boosts to social security.

“But many people living in poverty, who are already struggling against a tide of low wages, high costs, and inadequate social security, will not be feeling the impact of these measures. 

“Our government can act now to provide more targeted support that will get money in the pockets of people who are really feeling the pressure.

“This pandemic is a time of fear and anxiety for all of us, but we can take comfort from our shared values – now more than ever, we want to pull together as a country and show compassion to those who need help.”

Concerns are also on the rise over fuel poverty increases during Coronavirus pandemic.

Fuel Poverty Action have urged government and energy suppliers to make sure the Coronavirus crisis does not leave people in the cold or dark.

On today’s (26th March) figures, Imran Hussain, director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children, said the pandemic has made an “already-critical situation even worse”.

He said workers have been feeding desperate families from their own cupboards as the economic effect of COVID-19 causes further heartbreak.

He said: “These grim figures show millions of families with children are already struggling to keep their heads above water even before they – and millions of others living comfortably – find themselves hit hard by the economic wave of this once-in-a-generation health crisis.

“In the past week some families have already got so desperate, our frontline staff are feeding them from their own cupboards.

“And with so many families close to breaking point, we’ve had to launch an appeal fund to help those struggling to pay for basic essentials like food, nappies and utility bills.”

“We urgently need to put a protective shield around children in low income families.”

Hussain continued: “That means improving the child element of Universal Credit and Tax Credits, and ensuring these changes reach those children most at risk of poverty by suspending the benefit cap and the two-child limit for this support.

“Only then will we have a chance of giving vulnerable children a safe and happy childhood,” he added.

Becca Lyon, head of Child Poverty at Save the Children, warned even more children will “fall through the net” because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

She warned: “Even before Coronavirus, our country’s safety-net was failing too many children.

“Now there’s a danger that even more children will fall through the net.”

She added: “The government can help by giving them grants rather than loans, so that parents aren’t left without the money they need to heat their homes, and feed themselves and their children. 

“If we don’t act now, we risk even more families being locked in poverty.”

Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at the Children’s Society said that the figures show that poverty is not just rising, but deepening.

She said: “We welcome the coming together of politicians, professionals and communities to do everything it takes to respond to this crisis – including to address the additional pressure it will place on struggling families.

“The measures are a step in the right direction, however, faced by the levels of child poverty already present across the UK and shown by these figures, much more needs to be done to protect families in coming days, weeks and months.”

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