Levels of child poverty in the U.K. are predicted to rise to new highs, with 5.2 million children expected to live in poverty by 2022 according to The Institute for Fiscal Studies (I.F.S.), a British thinktank.
This would make the levels of children in relative poverty higher than they have ever been since records began in 1961.
A child is classed as living in relative poverty if their family earns less than 60 percent of the U.K. median income after adjusting for housing costs and family size, which official statistics place at about £248 a week.
Labour MP Margaret Greenwood, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary made a statement concerning the current rising trend, saying “These figures show that after eight years of Conservative austerity, Labour’s progress in tackling child poverty has been reversed with a shocking increase in the numbers of children living in poverty.
“No child should be forced to grow up in poverty. The next Labour government will make tackling child poverty an immediate priority,” she added.
The figures she referred to are from the research reported by the I.F.S., which predicted that over a million more children will be living in poverty in the next five years.
This predicted trend is confirmed by government statistics which show that there are 100,000 more children living in relative poverty than there were last year. Over four million children live in relative poverty in the U.K., accounting for 30 percent of the entire under 18 population. Children are the age group most likely to be living in relative poverty, with 21 percent of working-age adults in that position and 16 percent of pensioners.
But what’s causing the increase of children in relative poverty in the U.K.?
The I.F.S. claims that it is due to the austerity policies that conservatives have put into place, including the benefits freeze, the introduction of universal credits and the reduction in tax credits.
The benefits freeze, which froze child benefits until at least 2021, has been highly contested by many charity organizations since its introduction in 2015.
Rosie Ferguson, the chief executive of Gingerbread, a charity that supports single parents, said: “Child poverty is being allowed to fester rather than being tackled head on. That nearly half of all children in a single-parent family are now in poverty is a shocking statistic. ”
Similarly, Matthew Reed, the chief executive of The Children’s Society exclaimed how he hoped these findings would “spur the Government into decisive action” to stop this current trend.
He added that “Growing up in poverty can affect every aspect of a child’s life: their home, health, education, family relationships and even friendships.
“These figures show the toll that systematic cuts to welfare, including the freeze on children’s benefits, have taken on low-income families and the Government must now urgently review this freeze,” Reed said.
The IFS stated that the increase in relative poverty would mainly affect families with children, their report also predicted that the gap between rich and poor would increase even further and that income growth would remain low for at least four more years.
Tom Waters, a contributing author to the report and IFS research economist made a statement saying “Every region and nation is projected to see an increase in child poverty, with the largest increases in the north-east, East Midlands, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the smallest in London, the south-east, and south-west.
“The larger projected rises occur in areas where families with children are more reliant on benefits than earnings for their income, and where more families are likely to be adversely affected by the new two-child limit on means-tested benefits,” said Waters.
A government official responded to the report saying “The best route out of poverty is through employment, and since 2010 an extra three million more people are now working and 600,000 fewer children are living in workless households.
“But we recognize that budgets are tight, and that’s why we’re helping families keep more of what they earn. We’ve doubled free childcare – worth £5,000 per child each year.”
A coalition called the End Child Poverty coalition has called on the U.K. government to end the freeze on children’s benefits.
“There can be little doubt that the Government’s policy of maintaining the benefits freeze despite rising prices is a major contributor to the emerging child poverty crisis. No family in modern Britain should be struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and clothe their children,” said Sam Royston, chair of End Child Poverty.
“End Child Poverty is calling on the Chancellor to end the freeze on children’s benefits, and to invest in interest-free credit for low-income families, to ensure that poverty doesn’t result in spiraling debt,” Royston added.