Child poverty in England will continue to rise during this Parliament unless the government commits to a bold, broad response, the children’s commissioner for England has warned.
The Covid crisis is creating a child poverty timebomb that could see millions more children falling into poverty without urgent help, Anne Longfield warns as she publishes a call from a cross-party collection of politicians and campaigners calling for urgent action to tackle the blight of child poverty.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Child poverty was already a problem before the pandemic, but it has been laid bare by the Covid crisis and must not be ignored any longer. The shocking image of a family being sent half a carrot in a food parcel shows a system of support that, as well as often falling short, is at times demeaning and stigmatising.
“Yet some are still squeamish about even using the phrase ‘child poverty’. Neither of the two main political parties fought the last General Election with plans to significantly reduce child poverty, despite the fact it had been rising for most of the past decade,” she added.
There were 3.6 million children living in relative poverty in the UK after housing costs in 2010/11. When Anne Longfield began her term as Children’s Commissioner in 2014/15, the number had risen to 3.9 million by 2014/5, and by 2018/19 there were 4.2 million or 30% of children living in poverty. By the end of this parliament, even with a strong economic recovery, one in three children will be living in relative poverty – a level not seen since the 1990s, Ms Longfield warns.
While living in poverty does not necessarily equate to an unhappy childhood, it can make life a lot harder. In a survey carried out last year by the Children’s Commissioner, one in five children listed “not having enough money” as one of their top three worries while 5% listed “not having enough food or clothes”.
Alongside material hardship for children, growing up in poverty affects their education as poorer children do worse than their more affluent peers at every stage of education, and, as a result, they are more likely to enter adulthood with fewer opportunities. Children on Free School Meals (FSM) are more than twice as likely as their peers to leave education without a Level 2 Qualification (5 GCSEs, a technical equivalent or an apprenticeship), Previous Children’s Commissioner’s Office research shows.
The disadvantage gap between children in poverty and their peers during school has increased for the first time in decades and Covid-19 will only have accelerated these trends.
Anne Longfield is urging the government to end the uncertainty and worry facing families around whether the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift introduced by the Chancellor at the start of the Covid crisis will be retained.
Ms Longfield concluded: “In the short term, I want the Government to commit to keeping the £20 UC uplift. But too often policy changes to help people in poverty are a sticking plaster for the symptoms, made as a result of short-term political embarrassment.
“I am pleased to publish this collection of essays, which makes powerful arguments for an overhaul of the current system, with positive and practical solutions for cutting the number of children living in poverty. Both Ministers and the Opposition should take these ideas on board.
“Child poverty is one of the four major political, economic and social challenges facing us, along with decarbonising our economy, looking after an aging population, and preparing the jobs market for automation. We need to treat it with the same seriousness, and even greater urgency.
“Politicians must take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ now, and come up with a big, bold, long-term plan for fixing it,” she concluded.
The call from politicians includes a number of short essays from contributors including:
Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee – Lockdown, poverty and the disadvantage gap
Emma Revie, CEO, The Trussell Trust - Child ‘food poverty’ is just one symptom of a wider injustice: poverty
Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President 2020-21 Tackling the impact of child poverty
Child poverty: The crisis we can’t keep ignoring