“Babies and children in England will get a better start in life”. That’s the kind of opening line we’d hope for in a cross-governmental child poverty strategy. We know that poverty affects children’s ability to thrive, that children growing up in poverty do less well in school, and that poorer children are more likely to have poorer mental and physical health. Tackling poverty therefore has to be at the heart of the government’s plans. However, this is the introduction to the government’s review into reducing inequalities in the first 1,001 days of life in England. And addressing poverty barely gets a look in.
The publication of this report coincides with the release of government stats on poverty, called Households Below Average Income. From these stats we know that young children are particularly badly affected by poverty. Fifty-one per cent of all children in poverty are in families with a youngest child aged under five. That means more than half of families in poverty have very young children – the kind of young children discussed in the government’s review.
Today’s new statistics are pre-pandemic – they show just how many families were struggling even before COVID-19. 200,000 more children were pushed into poverty compared to the previous year. That means 4.3 million children are in poverty – 31 per cent. And this is a significant increase from 3.6 million children in 2010-11. We know that in-work poverty was rising before the pandemic, and it hit a new high last year. Seventy-five per cent – three-quarters – of poor children lived in working families in 2019-20, up from 72 per cent in 2018-19.
Not only are there more children in poverty, but the poverty they are experiencing is deeper. 2.9 million children are in deep poverty (with a household income below 50 per cent of median income), which is 600,000 more than in 2010-11.
Devastating as they are, these statistics shouldn’t be surprising. We entered the pandemic expecting to spend £36 billion a year less on social security because of the government’s decision to make cuts and freeze benefits.
But just as government action can lead to increases in child poverty, we know it can bring child poverty down significantly too. We’ve seen it before. What we need is a cross-governmental strategy for tackling child poverty. But it needs to go much further than anything we’ve heard from the government today. It needs to ensure families have enough money so that all children can thrive.
All figures are for UK; relative poverty after housing costs.