The annual Households Below Average Income statistics for 2016-17 reveal child poverty increased by 100,000 in a year to 4.1 million, the equivalent of 30 per cent of all children.
They show the majority of children living in relative poverty after housing costs are in families where the youngest child is under five.
More than 65 per cent of children in poverty are in working families.
Children in large families (three or more children), families with a disabled child, lone parent families and self-employed parents have seen the largest increases in poverty.
Children’s charities have expressed their concern at the increase in the number of children living in relative poverty.
However, the minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, Kit Malthouse, said it was ‘fantastic news that one million fewer people are living in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 300,000 children'.
Households are in absolute poverty if they are unable to afford basic necessities such as safe drinking water, food and shelter, whereas households in relative poverty have an income of 60 per cent less than the average median income. The average median income after housing costs is £425 per week (around £22,200 per year).
Commenting on the statistics, Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said, ‘Four million children were below the official poverty line in 2016-2017, 67 per cent of them in working families. How many more children will follow before the Government accepts that cuts to vital financial support are leaving families with too little to live on?
‘The Prime Minister entered Downing Street with a pledge to protect the living standards of ordinary families. Today's official child poverty figures show the Government is in denial on child poverty. If the Government is to make good on its pledge of support for struggling families, ending the punitive freeze on benefits for working and non-working families must be a priority.
‘Absolute poverty measures show what people today are living on in relation to a fixed median income in the past - currently pegged to 2010-2011. It should always fall as we move away from that point in time, that’s the bare minimum we can expect. Focusing on absolute poverty tells us nothing about how many people are drifting further away from the middle today. The problem we have is that 4 million children are in poverty, and some of the children due to be hit hardest by cuts – those in single parent families or families with more than two children – are seeing their risk of poverty rise.’
She added, ‘Today’s figures should sound a warning bell that if we fail to invest in children we will damage the life chances of a generation and the long-term prosperity of the country.’
Sam Royston, chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition, said, ‘Today’s figures show that the Government’s reforms are failing to reverse the rise in child poverty. We are very concerned that it is children growing up in the most vulnerable households that are being hit the hardest. And we call on the Government to end the freeze on children’s benefits and lift the two-child limit on tax credits and Universal Credit. If these policies aren’t reversed we are denying these children an equal opportunity to succeed at school, in later life and to enjoy a happy and healthy childhood.'
Steven McIntosh, Save the Children’s Director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns said, 'Today’s figures highlight a shocking trend of pre-school poverty. Poverty rates amongst families with the youngest children have seen years of rises and remain the highest - more than 1 in 3 children in families with under-fives are now growing up on the lowest incomes. This means that the majority of children living in poverty – 2.1 million – are in families where the youngest child is under five.
‘Financial hardship in a child’s early years has lifelong consequences, as children from the worst-off families are twice as likely to fall behind in their early learning and development and many never catch up.
‘Parents say that childcare issues are the biggest barrier to returning to work or increasing working hours. Despite important improvements, many parents with young children in England still can’t get the support they need from a costly and confusing childcare system, trapping them in low pay, on limited hours or unable to return to work at all. To help tackle financial hardship for families with the youngest children, the Government must urgently address gaps in childcare for low-income families in England.’
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said, ‘Today’s figures are almost double what the main parties vowed to achieve by 2020 when they signed up to the Child Poverty Act. This failure is made more depressing by the fact that while independent projections are warning that the figures are likely to get much worse in the next few years, the Government still has no serious plan for getting child poverty numbers down.
‘What’s needed is a broad, cross-government strategy, with clear targets and milestones, to reduce child poverty rates and which looks to fix Universal Credit, so it leaves families better off, not worse off, and which adequately funds children’s services, so we can get the right help to children as early as we can and spend less on costly late interventions. With children’s centres closing at the rate of one a week since 2010, we’re just storing up trouble for the future.’