Number of children in absolute poverty across UK hits 3.7 million after increases of 200,000 in a year

Campaigners say ‘avoidable’ rise in absolute child poverty is result of cuts to benefits and tax credits

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 28 March 2019 11:07 GMT
Shadow work and pensions secretary: 'Shocking poverty figures highlight the devastating impact of austerity on families across the country'

The number of children living in absolute poverty across the UK has increased by 200,000 in a year – to a total of 3.7 million.

New government data shows that while the rate of absolute child poverty had been gradually falling since 2012, it is now rising again.

The figures will come as an embarrassment for ministers, who last year responded to a rise in relative poverty by highlighting that absolute poverty rates – their preferred measure – had fallen.

Campaigners said the main drivers of the increase were cuts to benefits and tax credits, which have hit working families with more than two children particularly hard.

The figures show that among children in poverty there has been a rise in those who live in working families – up from 69 per cent to 72 per cent in a year.

There has also been an increase in the risk of poverty for children in larger families, with the number of households with three or more children up from 33 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent.

Overall, across the whole population, 100,000 more people are living in absolute poverty, with the figure now standing at 12.5 million.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said the figures highlighted the “devastating impact of austerity on families across the country”.

“The government must wake up to these figures, end the benefit freeze and stop the rollout of universal credit which is pushing people into poverty,” she added.

Research carried out for the Child Poverty Action Group to coincide with the publication of the figures found that the four-year freeze on children’s benefits alone would lead to average loses of £240 per year for families with children.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the charity, said: “Despite high employment, today’s figures reveal that 70 per cent 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. 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.

“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.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the figures were ”unacceptable” and branded poverty a “scar on our nation’s conscience”.

“Until today, the government has been hiding behind absolute poverty, but even that defence is starting to weaken,” he said.

“Families are looking to the government to immediately address problems of low pay, high rents and a weakened social security system. Child poverty can be solved if given the attention it needs.”

A study by the Resolution Foundation last month found that child poverty risked hitting a record high by 2023-24 unless the government implements substantial changes to universal credit and other benefits.

The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warned in November that policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty, and that Brexit was exacerbating the problem.

A government spokesperson said ministers were “looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances”.

“Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“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 £95bn a year on working-age benefits.”

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