Child poverty rising rapidly – warnings of further increases ahead

Sam Royston, Chair of End Child Poverty Coalition and Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society

The latest official Child Poverty statistics released on Tuesday paint a grim picture of child poverty in the UK – showing that 200,000 more children lived in poverty in 2015 compared to the previous year.

That means 200,000 more children in families living on less than 60% of an average incomes – struggling to make ends meet and to ensure their children are able to enjoy the same decent standard of life as their peers.

Children missing out on basic essentials

Dig a little deeper on the figures and you can see what the reality is for low income families. The “material deprivation” figures (which indicate the proportion of children living in families unable to afford key essential items,) show that nearly 700,000 children can’t afford to go on a school trip once a term, 5 and a half million live in families that can’t afford to save £10 per month, and nearly one and a half million live in families that can’t afford to heat their home.

Child poverty in working families

Perhaps most worryingly, the statistics indicate that more and more of those families living in poverty are stuck in low paid work – unable to make ends meet with inadequate pay and in work benefits. At the start of the century 49% of children in poverty lived in working families, by 2014 this had increased to 62%, and the latest statistics indicate that this had risen further – with two thirds of children in poverty now living in working families.

“Reduction” in the absolute child poverty figures

In last year’s statistics the number of children in absolute poverty (which measures the number of children falling below a fixed income threshold, increased each year in line with inflation) in 2013/14 was 4.1m – in this year’s figures – the absolute poverty rate for the same year had been adjusted down to 3.8m – a reduction of 300k children. This change was the result of a change in methodology – previously RPI was used as the principle inflation measure, in this year’s figures it was changed to CPI.

What next?

End Child Poverty organisations campaigned hard for the government to keep measuring and publishing child poverty figures – without these it is impossible to track UK progress on child poverty. But a change in the methodology this year artificially reduces the numbers of children in poverty on one of the key measures. Child poverty must be eradicated by robust action, not by changing the figures.

Much more needs to be done to tackle child poverty in the UK. Worryingly, every indication is that child poverty rates are likely to increase further in coming years, as cuts to support for children continue to bite.

One major contributor to this is the current four year freeze on most key benefits and tax credits for children. This means that as prices rise, families find it harder and harder to afford the same items. End Child Poverty would like to see an immediate end to the four year benefit freeze to help tackle child poverty in the UK. Ensuring that support for families rises in line with costs of living would make a major contribution to preventing further increases in child poverty rates.