More than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty as the impact of cuts to benefits continues to be felt by the least well-off families, according to a new study.
An analysis published by the End Child Poverty coalition of charities shows that the biggest increases in child poverty in the past two years have occurred in areas already identified as deprivation hotspots.
In four parliamentary constituencies – Bethnal Green and Bow, and Poplar and Limehouse in east London, and Ladywood and Hodge Hill in Birmingham – children are for the first time in recent years more likely than not to grow up poor.
“It is scandalous that a child born in some parts of the UK now has a greater chance of growing up in poverty, than being in a family above the breadline,” said Sam Royston, the chair of End Child Poverty and the director of policy and research at the Children’s Society.
The study comes as the Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that child poverty levels – a child is said to live in poverty if they are in a family living on less than 60% of median household income – are set to rise significantly over the next three years.
End Child Poverty called for an end to the four-year freeze on social security benefits imposed in 2016, saying that there was little doubt that the freeze, set against rising prices, was a major factor in an “emerging child poverty crisis”.
There are also concerns that universal credit cuts will further impoverish low-income families over the next few years. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that universal credit changes will push 1 million more children into poverty.
In 25 constituencies – mostly in London, Birmingham and Greater Manchester – more than 40% of children now live below the poverty line. Three constituencies have seen double-digit increases in child poverty rates over the past two years.
At a neighbourhood level the statistics are even more startling, with 62% of children in Coldhurst ward in Oldham living in poverty. In 87 wards, more than half of children are in poverty, an increase on 2015 when just 21 wards had 50% child poverty rates.
At the other end of the scale, as few as one in 10 children are in poverty in constituencies in affluent areas of the south-east of England. Child poverty levels in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency are 13.6%. The UK average is 27%.
Measured by local authority, Tower Hamlets in east London had the highest child poverty levels at 53%, and the biggest increase, up 10 percentage points. The lowest level among councils of a significant population was Wokingham in Berkshire at 10.8%.
A government spokesperson said: “The best route out of poverty is through employment, and since 2010 an extra 3 million more people are now in work and 600,000 fewer children are living in workless households. But we recognise that budgets are tight, and that’s why we’re helping families keep more of what they earn.
“We’ve doubled free childcare – worth £5,000 per child each year – while our £2.5bn pupil premium programme is supporting 2 million disadvantaged schoolchildren across the country.”
Prof Donald Hirsch, of Loughborough University, who carried out the study, said it signalled hard times ahead for the poorest families in areas most reliant on benefits and tax credits. “Child poverty is going up tremendously in the next three years, and areas which have high dependency on the state income are going to be really, really hit.”
Debbie Abrahams, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, said: “It is a damning indictment of this government’s policies that in some constituencies of the UK over half of children are living in poverty. Increasing child poverty is a direct result of this government’s utter failure to tackle the increasing cost of living, stagnating wages and their slashing of social security support.”
The End Child Poverty study is based on estimates of child poverty in different areas, calculated using HMRC data and the Labour Force Survey.
Dalia Ben-Galim, of the single parent charity Gingerbread, said: “Increasing levels of child poverty will continue to be the reality for many single parent families with the cost of living rising.”
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