Friday, November 27, 2020

“We are facing a child poverty crisis,” charity warns

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As the Government puts in place welcome emergency measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, child poverty continues its upward trend without an effective strategy to tackle it, a leading UK poverty charity has warned.

Today’s publication of annual poverty statistics (Households Below Average Income) for 2018- 2019 found:

  • 72% of poor children live in working families in 2018-19, up from 70% in 2017-18, and 15% of poor children have a self-employed parent, that’s a record high.
  • Number of children in poverty rises 100,000 to 4.2 million after housing costs (AHC), up from 3.6 million in 2010. That’s 30% of UK children below the poverty line.
  • 600,000 more children in relative poverty (after housing costs) since 2010.
  • 100,000 more children in absolute poverty (after housing costs) since 2010 while the economy has grown by 16%.
  • 51% of poor children are aged under 5 – that’s more than 2 million children.
  • Proportion of poor children in couple-families rises to 68% (up from 65% in 2017-18); 32% of poor children are in a single parent family (down from 35%).

The government’s measures to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic show radical action is possible, the charity says, yet to date there has been no such urgent response to rising child poverty.

Council housing dwarfed by London’s financial district. Photo: Oxfam.
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New research carried out for the Child Poverty Action Group by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and Dr Antonia Keung found that a modest increase in child benefit of £10 per child per week would reduce child poverty by 5 percentage points, compared to less than 2 percentage points resulting from the £20 universal credit and tax credits uplift announced by the Chancellor last week, showing families need more support.

Over the decade from 2010 to 2020, child benefit – paid to 12.7 million children and a vital lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet – will have lost almost a quarter of its value simply because it has not been updated as prices have risen.

Families have also been pushed into poverty – or further into poverty through policies that have affected families the most, such as benefit freezes, benefit cap and the two-child policy.

To tackle child poverty effectively, a package of emergency measures is possible – including removing the two-child limit and benefit cap, restoring the child element in universal credit and tax credits to its 2015/16 value and restoring the higher amount for first children, and a modest £5 extra on child benefit – would lift 700,000 children out of poverty and boost the incomes of families with children by £1,000 a year on average, at a cost of £8.3 billion.

Commenting on today’s annual poverty statistics, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham said: “This data always makes grim reading for people concerned about child poverty and this year, on the tenth anniversary of the now abolished Child Poverty Act passing into law it is grimmer still.

“We are facing a child poverty crisis. In recent days the Government has taken extraordinary steps, at a pace, to protect the jobs of millions and prevent an economic disaster as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, but still many families in low-paid and insecure jobs will be waking up this morning to the realities of our inadequate social security system.

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“Raising the adult rate in universal credit and tax credits is a welcome improvement, but more is needed when it comes to reducing child poverty.

“Unless concerted action is taken now, this week’s laid-off workers and their children will be adding to next year’s poverty statistics.”

She continued: “School closures will increase costs and place a greater burden on families struggling to keep their heads above water.

“We are calling for an extra £10 per week per child to be added to child benefit as the most effective way of getting support to families quickly.

“Additional payments for children of an extra £10 per week through universal credit and tax credits are also needed to help avoid struggle turning to real hardship for families during the pandemic.

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“The benefit cap and the two-child limit policies most also be removed to prevent the poorest families missing out.

“To prevent rising child poverty leading to a longer-term public health disaster, we need urgent action to support struggling families and their children.

“Growing up in poverty puts the health and wellbeing of 30% of the UK’s children at risk, but this is an avoidable threat to the health of the nation. Investing in children is both a moral responsibility and the most significant investment we as a nation can make for our future.

“Now is the time for action as the government is making an unprecedented investment to protect the economy and the nation’s health. Children deserve nothing less.”

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