More than half of poor children in the UK are under five

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More than two million families with children under five were living in poverty last year, official annual statistics show.

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There are now 4.1 million children living in poverty, the equivalent of 30 per cent of UK children living below the poverty line.

According to the Household Below Average Income data for 2017/18, 53 per cent of poor children are aged under five (up from 51 per cent last year).

The figures for relative child poverty are measured as children living in households below 60 per cent of median income, adjusted for family size, after housing costs.

There has also been a rise to the number of poor children in working families, up from 67 per cent to 70 per cent.

More families with three or more children are also at risk of falling into poverty, up from 32 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent.

The number of children living in absolute poverty (after housing costs) has also risen by 200,000 in a year – the first time there has been an increase in absolute poverty since 2012.

New research carried out for the Child Poverty Action Group with the Institute for Public Policy Research to coincide with the publication of the annual poverty statistics found that the four-year freeze on children’s benefits alone (child benefit and child elements in tax credits and universal credit) will lead to average loses of £240 per year for families with children and will result in 100,000 more children in poverty by 2023-24.

The charity said that for many the losses are much greater because of the freeze in help with housing costs and other benefits, and the impact of the benefit cap and two-child limit.

Over the decade from 2010 to 2020, child benefit will have lost almost a quarter of its value simply because it has not been updated as prices have risen.

Commenting, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said, ‘Today’s poverty figures make grim reading with more than 4.1 million children still in poverty and a jump in the proportion of poor children in working families.   

'Despite high employment, today’s figures reveal that 70% of children living under the poverty line have at least one parent in work. That is not an economy that is working for everyone. The increase in child poverty in working families was widely anticipated and could have been avoided. A coalition of charities came together to ask the Chancellor to take the opportunity of his Spring Statement to end the benefit freeze and bring families in from the cold. But the government chose not to, missing another opportunity to do the right thing for children and families despite the fact that the freeze had already achieved its planned savings.  

‘The question that arises from today’s figures is why the Government is not making progress on child poverty when 4.1m of our children will have diminished childhoods, their health and education compromised, and their future earnings jeopardised. The jobs miracle has not been that miraculous in its effects on child poverty. The face of child poverty is also getting younger - with the proportion of poor children who are under five having risen from 51 per cent to 53 per cent - and that is really worrying.’

‘At this critical point in the UK’s history, we need to step back and ask what kind of country we want for our children.’  

She also pointed out that in 2010 the UK was half-way to achieving the target to get child poverty down to 10 per cent by 2020. 

‘Now, a year away from what should have been a milestone moment for achieving long term change, child poverty risks reaching the highest level we’ve seen since records began in the 1960s.’ 

'Grim reading'

Responding to today’s UK child poverty figures, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said, ‘Showing an increase in relative child poverty and a rare rise in absolute child poverty, today’s figures make for grim reading. Yet what’s more alarming is the Government’s complete lack of recognition or urgency that it’s failing so badly to combat this growing crisis.

‘While we're told austerity is at an end, every day at Action for Children we're helping thousands of struggling families by playing a critical role in stepping in early to help keep vulnerable children safe from neglect, abuse and harm. We also support them in keeping their heads above water by providing a meal or even running unofficial foodbanks.

‘The Chancellor must urgently act to close the funding gap for children’s services in this year’s Spending Review and ensure he no longer allows inflation to eat into the benefits families rely on for their basic living needs.’

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said, ‘These latest figures show that a large proportion of families continue to struggle and with inequalities known to lead to higher rates of poor mental health, increased alcohol or substance misuse, obesity, and death, the outlook ahead looks bleak. 

‘Despite a very welcome shift in the prioritisation of child health by the Government, universal early years’ services continue to bear the brunt of cuts to public health services, with no targeted help provided for children and families experiencing poverty. This is a substantial threat to the good progress the government is making.

‘Without increased investment in public health services, ensuring a healthy future for our children will be difficult to grasp – I urge the Government to support these vulnerable families by reversing public health funding cuts and giving them the help they so urgently need.’

A Government spokesperson said, ‘Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.

‘Employment is at a record high, wages are outstripping inflation and income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010. But we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.

‘We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.’

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