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Dramatic rise in child poverty in the last five years – new report

  • Even before the pandemic, 4.3 million children were living in poverty, up 200,000 from the previous year – and up 500,000 over the past five years.
  • North East England shows the greatest growth in child poverty over the past five years and has risen by more than a third, taking it from below the UK average to the second-highest of any region
  • Highest rates of child poverty continue to be in major cities – particularly London and Birmingham
  • Three quarters (75%) of children living in poverty in 2019/20 were in households with at least one working adult; up from two thirds (67%) in 2014/15

New figures released today reveal that even before the pandemic, in some parts of the UK, the majority of children are growing up in poverty once housing costs are taken into account.

The research carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition shows that the North East of England has seen the most dramatic rise in child poverty in the past five years, fuelled by stagnating family incomes.

In London, high housing costs are pushing many families to the brink.

Overall, in the North East, the child poverty rate has risen by over a third - from 26% to 37% - over five years, moving from just below the UK average to the second-highest of any region, after London. A third of the overall increase happened in the latest year (2019/20) with many low-paid workers pushed below the poverty line by the freeze in their in-work benefits.  

Over the years, the proportion of children living in poverty who are in a household with at least one working adult has also increased sharply across the UK, up from two thirds (67%) five years ago to three quarters (75%).

Vikki Waterman is a single mum of two from Durham who works full-time. She says poverty in the north-east cripples hard-up families and it beggars belief that the UK Government doesn’t understand the struggles facing working parents, even more so following the financial impact of COVID-19.

“Too many of us in the north-east work twice as hard for half as much. We’re not living, we're just about surviving.

“Working families, particularly single parent families, already live day to day with the constant fear of having no flexibility or financial safety net, often forcing them to turn to high-interest loans in times of desperate need.  The government must not allow those of us barely managing to keep our heads above water from going under.”

The new data also confirms London and Birmingham, two of the UK’s largest cities, as having the greatest concentrations of child poverty with a dozen constituencies showing the majority of children living below the poverty line, even before large numbers of people started losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Of the UK nations, Wales has the highest percentage of children living in poverty nationwide (31%), followed by England (30%) then Scotland and Northern Ireland (24% each).

Loughborough’s Dr Juliet Stone, who produced the report, said: “These latest statistics show that tackling child poverty remains a major challenge. The proportion of children living in a household with income below the poverty line after housing costs has not only risen overall in the UK, but has shown an especially stark increase in certain regions.

“The trend in the North East is particularly bleak. The region has experienced a steep rise in child poverty since 2014/15, and rates are now almost on a par with London, where child poverty is generally most prevalent after housing costs are taken into account. It is unusual to see such a clear trend over a relatively short period of time, and this highlights the need to address growing inequalities between regions of the UK.

“These statistics predate the outbreak of COVID 19, showing that the child poverty rates were worrying high even before the pandemic. This is likely to have worsened even further over the past year. It is therefore imperative that we continue to monitor child poverty in the UK and at a local level, identifying the areas that are in greatest need.”

The coalition is calling on the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives and to create a credible plan to end child poverty which must include a commitment to increase child benefits.

Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the planned £20 p/w cut to Universal Credit in October should be revoked.

The support should also be extended to those still receiving financial assistance from the old benefits system, referred to as ‘legacy benefits’, before they are switched to Universal Credit.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition said: “The figures speak for themselves – the situation for children couldn’t be starker. We all want to live in a society where children are supported to be the best they can be, but the reality is very different for too many.

“The UK Government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ parts of the country hardest hit by poverty. After the year we’ve all had, they owe it to our children to come up with a plan to tackle child poverty that includes a boost to children’s benefits. And they need to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit given parents and children are having a tough enough time as it is.”

The full report ‘Local indicators of child poverty after housing costs, 2019/20’ as well as tables with Constituency and Local Authority data are available here

The 20 local authorities with highest increase in child poverty rates after housing costs, 2014/15 – 2019/20

Local Authority

% of children below 60% median income AHC

 

2014/15

2019/20

%age point increase

UK

29%

31%

2%

Newcastle upon Tyne

28.4%

41.2%

12.8%

Gateshead

24.7%

36.0%

11.2%

Redcar and Cleveland

26.2%

36.8%

10.6%

County Durham

25.3%

35.8%

10.5%

North Tyneside

23.6%

34.0%

10.5%

Darlington

25.7%

36.1%

10.4%

South Tyneside

27.4%

37.8%

10.4%

Hartlepool

27.4%

37.8%

10.4%

Middlesbrough

29.2%

39.4%

10.3%

Sunderland

27.4%

37.6%

10.3%

Stockton-on-Tees

25.5%

35.3%

9.8%

Northumberland

26.5%

36.2%

9.8%

Leicester

30.0%

37.9%

7.9%

Bradford

30.1%

37.7%

7.7%

Birmingham

35.5%

42.5%

6.9%

Leeds

28.6%

35.3%

6.7%

Manchester

35.4%

41.8%

6.4%

Kirklees

30.0%

36.1%

6.2%

Kingston upon Hull

30.2%

36.3%

6.1%

North Lincolnshire

27.2%

33.1%

5.9%

 

The 20 parliamentary constituencies with highest child poverty rates, 2019/20

Constituency

% of children below 60% median income after housing costs, 2019/20

UK

31%

Bethnal Green and Bow

59.6%

Hackney South and Shoreditch

56.3%

Birmingham Ladywood

54.5%

Birmingham Hall Green

54.3%

Birmingham Hodge Hill

52.0%

Vauxhall

51.6%

West Ham

51.2%

Poplar and Limehouse

50.6%

East Ham

50.0%

Walthamstow

49.8%

Birmingham Perry Barr

48.9%

Barking

48.9%

Warley

47.8%

Tottenham

47.6%

Bermondsey and Old Southwark

47.4%

Bradford West

47.3%

Walsall South

47.1%

Manchester Gorton

46.8%

Bradford East

46.7%

Holborn and St Pancras

46.4%

 

Interviews, further briefing and stats available.  Images available here (please credit Save the Children). Local authority and constituency data available below.

  • The research was carried out by Dr Juliet Stone and Professor Donald Hirsch at the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University based on the latest Before Housing Cost child poverty data from DWP published in March 2021.
  • Report and data all available here Local child poverty data 2014/15 - 2019/20 | Improving the lives of children and families (endchildpoverty.org.uk)
  • For a family of one adult and one child, 60% of median income, after housing costs, in 2019/20 was £223 a week
  • For a family of one adult and two children, £280 a week
  • For a family of two adults and one child, £343 a week
  • For a family of two adults and two children, £400 a week

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/82

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