Five million children face living in poverty by 2020


Despite a growing economy, the UK is set to see a record level of child poverty as wages remain low and welfare cuts continue, with fears that almost five million children could be in poverty by 2020. Pete Henshaw reports.

As many as 1.4 million more children could be pushed into living in poverty within the next six years, a national charity has claimed.

Around 3.5 million children are already living in poverty in the UK – around 27 per cent – and analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted that this figure could rise by a third between now and 2020 because of low real-wage growth and announced social security cuts.

However, a new report from Save the Children has warned that further expected cuts to welfare, weaker than anticipated wage growth, and dramatic increases to the cost of living could lead to a further 325,000 more children sliding into poverty.

This would mean almost five million children in the UK could be living below the poverty line by 2020 – which would be the highest ever recorded figure.

Living in poverty is defined as living in families whose income is 60 per cent below the UK average. Politicians had previously committed to eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020.

The report states: “If wages follow the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast and government departments make three-quarters of their spending cut targets, with the welfare cap having to absorb the remaining quarter – a conservative estimate resulting in fewer cuts to welfare than proposed by the chancellor in early 2014 – this could lead by 2020 to 325,000 more children in poverty than the Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted, which would be an increase of 1.4 million on the latest child poverty figures.

“By 2020, child poverty would be around the highest ever recorded in the UK, and the highest for a generation. This will lead to a material deterioration in the quality of childhoods and life chances of poor children.”

The report – entitled A Fair Start for Every Child – highlights the impact that growing up in poverty has on the rest of a child’s life, including a higher likelihood of health problems, lower levels of emotional wellbeing, and lower educational achievement.

Based on analysis from 2012 showing the links between child poverty and poorer outcomes, the report estimates just how many children may be struggling  by 2020.

Based on the more conservative IFS prediction, 1.7 million children will be living in cold homes by 2020 (an increase of 154,000 from the situation now), while 997,000 will not be getting enough fruit and vegetables (up 89,000).

Furthermore, 252,000 children will not be achieving the benchmark of five GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths (up  by 23,000).

The report re-emphasises the particular impact of poverty on educational outcomes. It states that poorer children often struggle because of their early experiences.

Problems include difficulty concentrating due to hunger, missing out on school trips due to the cost, bullying because of their appearance, and difficulty completing homework because of their housing conditions.

Only one third of poor 16-year-olds achieve five A* to C grades, including English and maths, compared with nearly two-thirds of their better-off peers.

The report also warns that work is no longer a route out of poverty for many families, with wage trends over the past decade showing relatively small increases compared to economic growth. This is coupled with an increase in demand for part-time workers.

The report states: “As a result of the slow growth in real wages in the UK, the prevalence of low pay has increased. The UK has one of the highest rates of low pay in the developed world.

“One in five employees is now classified as low paid, earning two-thirds below average wages. Two-thirds of poor children now live in working households. So, although the UK was successful at getting parents into work over the last decade, for many of those parents the rewards of work did not ultimately help their families out of poverty.”

The report says that it is plausible that despite economic growth, low-income families could be materially worse off by 2020. 

Reasons for this include the cost of basic goods such as food, energy and childcare rising faster than average prices. One example is that of food prices, which the report predicts could rise by 18 per cent between now and 2018, eventually adding £850 to an average family’s annual grocery bill.

The report calls for politicians to either “recommit to eradicating poverty by 2020 and put forward a radical strategy to achieve it” or to “introduce an ambitious interim plan, with an achievable but ambitious date for poverty eradication”.

It calls for three immediate steps to be taken that it says could have a notable impact:

  • High-quality, affordable childcare for all.

  • A minimum income guarantee for families of children under-5.

  • A national mission for all children to be reading well by 11.

The report states: “These measures will not eradicate poverty for all children, but if introduced would play a major role in improving life experiences for children in poorer families and ensuring poverty does not continue across generations. This is the very least we can do as a country for our youngest children.

“But if we don’t take these steps, we will have recovered our economic position, but only at grave cost to the childhoods and ambitions of our children. Another generation risks growing up in a world where poverty, like crime, is punishable, and where for too many, the future only really holds promise if you are born in the right circumstances. 

“The cost of our prosperity will be our collective conscience and our national future. This is not a call for a political debate. This is a call for a renewed national focus on the lives and futures of our children.”


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