POLITICS
19/05/2021 00:00 BST | Updated 19/05/2021 00:42 BST

Huge Rise In Child Poverty Despite Boris Johnson's 'Levelling Up' Agenda

Study shows 4.3 million children were living in poverty in 2019-2020 and that rates in north east England saw biggest increase.

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Two young girls pose for a photograph at a mural of Manchester United footballer and child poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford

Child poverty has been on the rise across huge swathes of the country, despite Boris Johnson’s pledges to “level up” the UK. 

New research has found 4.3 million children were living in poverty in the latest year (2019-2020), up 200,000 from the previous year and up 500,000 over the past five years.

North east of England recorded the biggest increases, where child poverty rates were up by a third.

The highest rates of child poverty – which is defined as a family living on 60% of the median national income once housing costs are deducted – were in large cities like London, however. 

The End Child Poverty Coalition, which commissioned the study by Loughborough University, said stagnating wages and high housing costs were pushing families to the brink. 

There were eight constituencies where more than half of all children were living in poverty, with London’s Bethnal Green and Bow having the highest at almost 60%. 

Of the UK nations, Wales has the highest rate of children living in poverty (31%), followed by England (30%), with Scotland and Northern Ireland equal on 24%.

Research 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.
Research 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.

The most-affected communities were major urban areas – particularly London and Birmingham, which have 17 of the worst 20 constituencies in the UK.

Three in four children living in poverty in 2019/20 were from households with at least one working adult, up from two in three in 2014/15.

The coalition said much of the increase happened in 2019 to 2020 when low-paid workers were pushed below the poverty line by freezes to their in-work benefits.

The figures, compiled using data from the Department for Work and Pensions, will pile pressure on the government to do more to help families on the breadline. 

Food poverty campaigners such as Manchester United star Marcus Rashford have also been calling on ministers to reverse plans to cut Universal Credit by £20-a-week later this year. 

Vikki Waterman, a single mother of two from Durham who works full time as a dentist’s administrator, said: “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.” 

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.
Research 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.

The End Child Poverty Coalition – which includes charities, trade unions and faith groups – called on the Government to increase child benefits and said the planned £20 cut to Universal Credit in October should be revoked.

Coalition chair Anna Feuchtwang 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 coalition said 60% of median income for a family of one adult and one child, after housing costs, would be £223 a week in 2019/20, £280 for one adult and two children, or £400 for a family of two adults and two children.

The survey’s data for 2019/20 do not take into account the affects of the pandemic, which will be shown in next year’s figures.

GMB’s London branch called for action to help lower paid staff in the capital.

Political officer Vaughan West said: “Building more council homes at real affordable rents, forcing public bodies to pay London Living Wage to outsourced workers and higher child benefits and Universal Credit for families are part of a viable solution.

“So too is making work pay so new laws are needed to help lower paid workers to combine into trades unions and force employers to bargain with them for proper wages.”