Burying bad news – Child poverty to rise by 50 per cent by 2020

3rd July 2016 / United Kingdom

By New Economics Foundation – Four million children are living in poverty: how do we stop this?

As our country is gripped by the aftershocks of Brexit and the governing party is preoccupied with a leadership race in which the two front runners are millionaires, we should note that almost 4 million children in our country are growing up in poverty.

On Tuesday, the government released figures revealing that the number of children living in poverty in the UK increased by 200,000 over the past year to 3.9 million. 66% of these children now live in working families (up from 64% last year).

The IFS and Resolution Foundation indicate that this trend is set to continue, with predictions suggesting that child poverty will rise by 50% or more by 2020.

Childhood poverty leads to more challenges later down the line

Poverty matters. Children growing up in poverty are more likely to suffer chronic illness during childhood or have a disability. Children living in low-income households are nearly three times as likely to suffer mental health problems as their more affluent peers. Young adults who have lived in poverty as children are significantly more likely to earn lower wages or be unemployed, while men are more likely to spend time in prison, women face a higher risk of becoming lone parents.

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Children from poorer backgrounds lag behind at all stages of education. According to Department for Education statistics, by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers. Department for Education figuresfrom 2015 show that only 35.5% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved five or more A*–C grade GCSEs, compared to 60.5% of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.

Clearly, the effects of growing up in poverty are significant, and have a limiting effect on children’s health and opportunities in later life.  The economic costs of poverty are also massive: in 2013 a report estimated that child poverty costs the UK at least £29 billion each year.

Yet the current government has consistently failed to tackle child poverty, as this week’s figures evidence. Earlier this year, the government fought to scrap income as an indicator of poverty – a battle it thankfully lost due to opposition from the House of Lords and sustained resistance on the part ofanti-poverty organisations. Publication of the government’s Life Chances Strategy has been shelved amidst the chaos surrounding Brexit. Along with the recent dismantling of the 2010 Child Poverty Act, it is clear that despite government rhetoric promising to ‘improve life chances’ there has been a complete absence of any action which actually does this.

Policies should ease pressure on low-income households, not make things harder

In reality, as an IFS report highlights, government action in recent years has in fact increased the pressure on working-age households. Cuts to council tax support and the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ in 2013–14 both seem to have increased arrears, on council tax and rent, while benefit cuts over this parliament are predicted to increase absolute poverty for working-age households – including those currently in work.

The most direct cause of poverty is having a low income – often from being in a badly-paid job as opposed to being unemployed – rather than being linked to family instability or addiction, a fact the government’s proposed ‘life chances’ strategy fundamentally fails to recognise. Tackling low income clearly needs to be at the heart of effectively tackling child poverty.

The government’s commitment to an “all-out assault on the causes of poverty ” is welcome. But without commitment to developing policies that tackle the big challenges contributing to childhood poverty – like low-paid work and tax increases that hit low-income earners the hardest – such a statement is meaningless.

 

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