More than a million under-fives living in poverty

Kathy Oxtoby
Monday, February 15, 2021

New study finds that 1.3 million babies and children are living in poverty and two in five of these families have seen a fall in earnings because of the pandemic.

The Government plans to remove the temporary uplift in universal credit.
The Government plans to remove the temporary uplift in universal credit.

A report by the baby bank charity Little Village and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that 1.3 million of the 4.2 million children in poverty in the UK are babies and children under the age of five.

It found that for families with at least one child under five, a third of children (34 per cent) now live in poverty.

Households where there is a child under three face the highest risk of poverty.

The report explores the rates, persistence and depth of poverty in families with young children. It also highlights the impact of the Covid pandemic on these families.

Families facing impossible choices
London-based Little Village is like a foodbank, but for clothes, toys and equipment for babies and children up to the age of five. The research was commissioned to mark the fifth anniversary of the charity, which has supported more than 11,000 children since 2016. 

Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty.

According to the research, a quarter of all babies and toddlers currently experiencing poverty are deep in poverty, living below 50 per cent of the poverty line. In real terms this means families are facing impossible choices between heating, food and rent.

London has the highest rates of poverty for children in these households (43 per cent), followed by the North East (42 per cent) and the West Midlands (39 per cent). The lowest poverty rates in the UK for children in these households are in Scotland (28 per cent), the South West (28 per cent) and Northern Ireland (27 per cent).

London also has the deepest poverty rates of anywhere in the UK for these families. On average, children in poverty in the capital live further below the poverty line than children elsewhere in the UK, with families with two young children living on £248 a week.

Little Village said it ‘fully supports’ the calls from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to keep the £20 increase in Universal Credit to address the immediate impact of the pandemic on young families living in poverty,

Sophia Parker, founder of Little Village, says the new research ‘lays bare the unacceptable scale and depth of poverty in the UK for babies, toddlers and young children’.

‘The figures speak for themselves, and we see the real impact poverty has on families every week at Little Village – too many children are growing up hungry, cold and with clothes that don’t fit, lacking the essential items they need to thrive.

‘Every child has the right to a good childhood. The early years have a huge bearing on future health, education and employment outcomes. Even before the pandemic struck, millions of children were being left behind, and the last year has made matters so much worse,’ she says.

She adds: ‘Child poverty is not inevitable: we have successfully tackled it in the past. This generation of children should remember us for how we got behind them, not for how they were let down. We believe the Government needs to take real action to address this national crisis now.’

The report warns that plans by the Treasury to remove the temporary uplift in Universal Credit in April will reduce the incomes of 6.2 million families by £1,040 (£20 a week), plunging half a million people, including 200,000 children, into poverty overnight.

Helen Barnard, director at Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: ‘It’s just not right that any child in our society is growing up in poverty. The fact that so many children are growing up with the constant pressure of poverty shows just how far we are from realising our society’s shared belief that every child should have the best start in life. 

‘Organisations like Little Village do extraordinary work to support children and families, not just with the essentials they need but with the solidarity and kindness that we know means so much to people who’ve been pulled under.

‘But as a society we have a responsibility to make sure that people don’t end up in this situation in the first place, and the Government has a critical opportunity to do this now, by keeping the £20 increase in Universal Credit. Introducing this support was the right course of action, and a recognition that our social security system was not strong enough to keep people afloat prior to the pandemic.

‘Unemployment is projected to peak later this year and stay high for some time. Cutting the lifeline would be the worst possible decision for families on low incomes who face another extremely challenging year ahead.’

To promote good childhoods for all in the long term, the report recommends ensuring families enjoy decent wages and security of income, and greater investment in the early years, so that parents and young children receive proper support at this crucial stage in a child’s life.

Read the full report here

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