Child poverty hits 4.2 million amid coronavirus impact fear

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Levels of child poverty in the UK have risen once again, as has the proportion of these children who are living in working families. It comes amid fears that the coronavirus crisis will hit these families and their children the hardest, while also pushing many more into poverty.

The latest household income statistics (for 2018/19) show that 4.2 million children (around 30 per cent of all UK children) now live below the poverty line, with 72 per cent of these in working families (DWP, 2020).

These are children living in families that earn below 60 per cent of the UK median income after housing costs.

For 2018/19, the UK’s median household income before housing costs is £514 a week (around £26,800 a year) – 60 per cent of which is £308.

The child poverty figures are up from 4.1 million in 2017/18, of which 70 per cent were in working families. By comparison, in 2010/11, there were 3.6 million children living in poverty, with 58 per cent of these in working families.

The rise of in-work poverty has been fuelled by a rise in the number of single parents who are only able to work part-time (to 41 per cent in 2018/19) and couples where only one parent can work (up to 38 per cent).

The figures have sparked calls from the End Child Poverty coalition for more targeted support for children living in poverty during the coronavirus crisis. It warns that these families are more likely to be badly affected by school closures, loss of income, and the uncertainty that has come with the coronavirus outbreak.

It wants to see an increase of £10 to child benefit, the suspension of the two-child limit and benefit cap, and immediate local authority co-ordination to support schools or hubs to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children at risk of abuse or neglect or with SEN.

Anna Feuchtwang, chair of the End Child Poverty coalition and chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “We welcome the steps taken by government on statutory sick pay, employee support for PAYE and Universal Credit. But these child poverty figures must focus the government’s mind on those least able to cope with the impact of Covid-19 and those least likely to be heard advocating for what they need.

“The government must recognise that while we are all affected by the crisis we are not all equally prepared for its consequences. Children trapped in poverty already have their lives restricted. Many of them will be living in poor accommodation, reliant on school meals and without the means for effective home-schooling.

“We believe there is more the government can do, not only to ensure children are kept safe and have their immediate needs met, but to ensure that more children are not pulled into poverty and those already living in poverty are not further disadvantaged by the crisis.”

Meanwhile, the charity Action for Children has warned that even during the past week, the consequences of the coronavirus lockdown have pushed some families to breaking point. The charity has now launched an appeal fund to help those struggling to pay for essentials like food, nappies and utility bills.

The charity’s director of policy and campaigns Imran Hussain said:We welcome the financial support but the government needs to go further and faster. We urgently need to put a protective shield around children in low income families. 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.”

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