The government is “significantly off track" with its pledge to end child poverty in the UK by 2020 and should “re-examine" its approach, campaigners have said.
The latest figures on child poverty, published last week in the Households Below Average Income Report, show that 2.3 million children are living in poverty.
However, this figure rises to 3.7 million children – which is 27 per cent of all children in the country – after housing costs are deducted from family incomes.
Reacting to the figures this week, teachers warned once again of the impact that poverty has on education, but said that schools cannot overcome the challenges alone.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said the failure to reduce child poverty was “shameful" and warned that “a new generation of children is getting used to food banks".
In 2013/14, the average (median) real terms household income before housing costs remained unchanged from 2012/13 at £453 a week. Average household income after housing costs was also unchanged at £386. Families who are living on 60 per cent or less of these rates are considered to be living in poverty.
It had been widely expected that the latest figures would show a significant increase in child poverty, but the statistics are largely similar to those from 2012/13.
The government has also highlighted that the percentage of children living in poverty is at its lowest level since the 1980s.
However, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), has pointed out that the big falls in child poverty came before 2011 and has raised concerns about the progress being made towards the government's 2020 target.
In a blog for the CPAG – which is reproduced in SecEd this week (read Megan Jarvie's full article here), its London campaign co-ordinator Megan Jarvie says that the figures “make it pretty clear that the government is significantly off track when it comes to fulfilling its commitment to end child poverty by 2020".
Ms Jarvie argues that previous “robust projections" by the likes of the Institute of Fiscal Studies show that a rise in child poverty by 2020 is still likely and that this comes before the £12 billion of cuts that are planned to the welfare system during this Parliament.
The Child Poverty Act legally commits the governments to eradicating child poverty by 2020, but Ms Jarvie says: “To achieve this, child poverty rates need to be slashed to just over a third of the figures released for 2013/14."
Work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, this week reiterated the government's mantra that work remains the best route out of poverty and argued that UK employment is up more than two million since 2010.
He said: “We know that work is the best route out of poverty, with children in workless families around three times as likely to be in poverty than those in working families. Our reforms to the welfare system are focused on making work pay, while our reforms to the tax system are allowing people to keep more of what they earn."
However, the latest figures show that 64 per cent of the children growing up in poverty are in working families – up from 55 per cent in 2010.
Ms Jarvie accused Mr Duncan Smith of not giving the “full picture": “Families are less likely to be living in poverty if they are working, but work has not provided a route out of poverty for around 2.3 million children."
David Holmes, chair of the End Child Poverty campaign, which is hosted by the CPAG, said that the figures underline the need for a “concerted action at national level".
He added: “The figures, showing the majority of poor children live in working families, are a very clear warning about the damage cuts to tax credits for the low paid would inflict.
“All the main parties signed up to the legal targets to end child poverty so these latest figures ought to lead to a re-examination of the government's approach to tackling child poverty.
“(This month's) Budget should be an opportunity for the government to announce positive steps to reduce child poverty and not a moment for cuts to children's benefits, like tax credits targeted at children in low-income families.
“With the annual cost of child poverty already £29 billion a year it must make good economic as well as moral sense for the government and indeed the whole nation to commit afresh to reducing and ultimately ending child poverty."
The call for a new approach has been echoed by the National Children's Bureau. Its director of evidence and impact, Enver Solomon, said: “Financial hardship blights children's lives in so many ways, affecting how well they do at school, their health and their happiness. Tackling it must be a top priority for government which now needs to reconsider its approach to ensure that the legal commitment to end child poverty is met."
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “A new generation of children is getting used to food banks. Too many children are coming into school hungry, and too many parents are struggling to pay for school uniforms.
“But this government conveniently forgets that most children living in poverty have at least one parent in work, and perpetuates the myth that poverty is due to unemployment, family breakdown, debt, and drug and alcohol dependency.
“This government is blighting the lives of a generation of young people who are too hungry to learn and struggle to do homework in cramped, poor-quality housing, so are likely to fail to achieve their true potential."
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Teachers are only too aware of the problems of poverty and, frankly, deprivation that face our pupils. They take their pastoral responsibility very seriously, but addressing society-wide inequity cannot be the task of schools alone.
“Children and young people who arrive at school hungry, who live in poor housing and who cope with the daily struggle of living in households with little money, cannot learn as well as they could and should. Teachers should do everything they can with every child – and they do. Politicians should do everything they can to eliminate poverty – but they don't." Further information
CAPTION: Poverty: The Waterloo Food Bank in London. Teachers fear that food bank use is becoming commonplace for too many children (Photo: Lucy Young/REX Shutterstock)