More children of working families falling into poverty

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The number of children living in poverty has risen by 500,000 in the last five years to 4.1 million, finds new research.


The report found that lone parent families are more likely to be in poverty than couple families

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) annual report into poverty finds the numbers of children in poverty has risen ‘much faster’ over the last five years than expected based on population growth. Between 2013 and 2018, the total number of children in the UK increased by 3-per-cent, while the number in poverty increased by 15 per cent.

It says the rise is largely down to an increase in children from working families falling into poverty.

In-work poverty is higher than at any time in the last 20 years.

The risk of poverty for children in workless households has also grown since 2013, from 63 per cent to 73 per cent.

The report finds that lone-parent families are more likely to be in poverty than couple families. Lone parents are also twice as likely to live in persistent poverty than any other group.

It says this is due to many lone parents being in low-paid work, the high cost of housing and cuts to benefits and tax credits.

Hazel Ratcliffe, a working lone parent from Fife, said, ‘Life can feel like a hamsters’ wheel: I am working and pushing myself so hard, but feel like I’m stuck. Every week I have school dinner money to give the boys, diesel for my car, food for the house. Most weeks I manage, but it involves rigid meal planning, then going around the supermarket with a calculator to ensure I stay within budget. Clothes, shoes and food are so expensive.  

‘I live in private rented accommodation. Benefits should loosen the constraints of low pay and high rents. I think the Government needs to increase benefits to match the rate of inflation. The minimum wage needs to be more like the living wage and make sure work is a route to a decent quality of life.’


To stem the rise in poverty, the JRF is calling for reforms to social security, housing and the jobs market. It recommends:

  • Ending the freeze on benefits and tax credits a year early next spring to ‘anchor’ people against low pay and high costs. It says as well as helping 200,000 people out of poverty, it would increase the incomes of nearly 14 million people on low incomes by an average of £270 in 2020/21.
  • At the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government invests in building at least 80,000 ‘genuinely’ affordable homes a year.
  • More employers play their part in solving poverty by paying the real Living Wage and training their workforce so they can progress into higher-paid roles.


Campbell Robb, chief executive of the JRF, said, ‘We are seeing a rising tide of child poverty as more parents are unable to make ends meet, despite working. This is unacceptable. It means more families are trapped in impossible situations: struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and dealing with the terrible stresses and strains poverty places on family life. 

‘It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustice of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone. 

‘We can do this by taking action on housing, social security and work to loosen the constraints poverty places on people’s lives. No one wants to see more families being pushed over the brink.  

‘We have an opportunity to fix this and ensure everyone can reach a decent standard of living – it is one we must seize to make the country work for everyone after Brexit.’

A DWP spokesperson said, 'We disagree with this report, and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, including 300,000 children.

'With this Government’s changes household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, taxes are down for families and businesses, and there are fewer children in workless households than ever before, boosting their prospects in life.'

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