In some parts of the country the majority of children are growing up in poverty, once their family’s housing costs are taken into consideration, a report has found.
Research for the End Child Poverty Coalition found that the North East of England has shown the biggest rise in child poverty rates in the past five years, which it claimed was fuelled by stagnating family incomes.
In London, rising housing costs are pushing many families to the brink, the coalition said.
There were eight constituencies where more than half of all children were living in poverty – defined as a family living on 60% of the median national income after housing costs.
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%.
Even before the pandemic, the study by Loughborough University found that 4.3 million children were living in poverty in 2019/2020, up 200,000 from the previous year and up 500,000 over the past five years.
The most-affected areas were in major cities – 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.
North East England showed the biggest growth in child poverty over the past five years, rising by more than one third, taking it from below the UK average to the second highest of any region.
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.
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.”
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.”
The Government uses a different measure of child poverty and said between 2009/10 and 2019/20 absolute child poverty (after housing) fell from 28% (3.7million) to 25% (3.5million).
A spokesman said: “Latest figures show that the number of children in absolute poverty has fallen by 300,000 since 2010.
“We are committed to supporting families most in need, spending billions more on welfare and planning a long-term route out of poverty by protecting jobs through furlough and helping people find new work through our Plan for Jobs.
“We also introduced our £269 million Covid Local Support Grant to help children and families stay warm and well-fed throughout the pandemic.”