Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday show the number of children living in households with below average incomes increased by 100,000 in 2015-16 to reach a staggering 4 million.
Charities and the Labour Party have reacted angrily to the shocking statistics, blaming government policies and welfare cuts for pushing more families below the breadline. 67% of poor children are in working families on low incomes, many of whom may have been affected by cuts to in-work benefits.
Analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found self-employed couples with children and lone parents are at particular risk of poverty. Self-employed couples with children have a 30% risk of poverty, while 47% of children from single parent households are poor.
London remains the area with the highest child poverty rate (37%) after housing costs. But excluding housing costs, both the West Midlands and Northern Ireland have a child poverty rate of 23% – the highest regional rates in the UK.
Alison Garnham, CPAG Chief Executive, said: “Today’s figures show that child poverty has increased to 4 million, a level we haven’t seen since 2007-8. The number of poor children in working families has reached 67%.
“The Prime Minister spoke about injustice on entering Downing Street but there is no greater burning injustice than children being forced into poverty as a result of government policy and no greater damage to our long term prosperity than failing to invest in our children.
“These figures are grim but, according to independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the outlook for the next few years is bleaker. Most worrying of all is that the Government seems to be in a state of denial. Last week’s Budget failed to mention poverty even once.
“The upward trend is clear: since 2010/11, 400,000 more children moved into poverty whether that is measured before or after housing costs.
“Child poverty is rising because ordinary families are stuck on low pay while living costs rise and family benefits are cut drastically.
“Help for struggling families has been a centrepiece of the Prime Minister’s speeches. But today’s figures suggest action is needed to follow through on the speeches – and urgently. The price of inaction is a generation of children with damaged life chances.”
Rosie Ferguson, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, a charity that supports single parents, commented: “Today’s new figures show that child poverty is being allowed to fester rather than being tackled head on. That nearly half of all children in a single parent family are now in poverty is a shocking statistic. That’s 140,000 more children in poverty in single parent families over the course of just one year.
“But perhaps most damning of all is the impression that it is government action – rather than merely inaction – that is actively driving down the life chances of single parents and their children.
“The huge spike in the number of children in poverty whose single parents are in full time work strongly suggests that the government policy of forcing people into inflexible and low paid jobs is deeply counterproductive.
“Instead we need quality flexible opportunities that work for families, and a fair benefits system that supports them. How many more children must be resigned to poverty before the government accepts this?”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicts the number of children in poverty will reach five million by 2020, but many families are already ‘feeling the pinch’.
A recent report by the End Child Poverty Coalition, titled ‘Feeling the pinch’, found that Child Benefit, a key protection for children at risk of poverty, is expected to rise by just 2% between 2010 and 2020.
Meanwhile, living costs are expected to rise rise by around 4% in the coming year. According to the report, an out-of-work single parent family will be £2800 a year worse off by 2020.
Sam Royston, Chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition, said “Rising child poverty is a blight on our country, and is projected to rise further in the next few years. Families are really feeling the pinch – and these figures confirm that the government needs to do more to support families on a low income.
“End Child Poverty calls for urgent action to turn the tide on child poverty. We are calling on the government to support families who are struggling with stagnating income and rising prices. Ending the freeze on children’s benefits is a crucial first step.”
Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These statistics show a worrying increase in both poverty and inequality. Four million children and two million older people are now living below the breadline.
“Those living with a disabled person are more likely than ever to be struggling to make ends meet.
“This is a direct result of this Government’s seven wasted years of austerity and punitive social security cuts.
“The Tories’ shocking failure to tackle the increasing costs of basic essentials, stagnating wages and their ruthless slashing of social security is leaving working families worse off up to 2020.”
“Labour would reverse cuts to in-work support, ban the exploitative zero hours contracts being used on hundreds of thousands of workers, and guarantee a real Living Wage.”