Child poverty has risen by 500,000 in the last five years

New figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 14 million people were living below the breadline in the UK

Child poverty has skyrocketed by more than half a million in just five years as Britain prepares to face Brexit.

In fact, this has been a trend that harks back even longer, with levels steadily increasing since 2011/12, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), who released their State of the Union report today (December 4).

That means that 4.1 million children currently live in poverty with the vast majority in working families. UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston commented that the levels are “staggering” in the interim report he delivered last month.

Overall, 14.3 million people living below the breadline – more than a fifth of the UK population – accounting for 8.2 million working-age adults and 1.9 million pensioners as well as the aforementioned number of children.

In-work poverty has been rising faster than employment – figures that the government has been particularly proud of. The JRF lay the blame for that at dead-end low-paid jobs with little hope of progressions, citing hotel, bars, restaurants and retail work as the worst offenders.

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The charity also warns that the National Living Wage and tax cuts are making little impact, due to changes to tax credits and benefits that top up low wages, while housing costs are driving poverty rises.

As a counter, JRF is calling for an end to the freeze on benefits and tax credits to increase the incomes for almost 14 million people by an average of £270 by 2020/21. They are also calling on the government to build at least 80,000 genuinely affordable homes per year.

That would help lone working parents like Hazel Ratcliffe from Fife, they say.

“Life can feel like a hamsters’ wheel: I am working and pushing myself so hard, but feel like I’m stuck,” she said. “Every week I have school dinner money to give the boys, diesel for my car, food for the house. Most weeks I manage, but it involves rigid meal planning, then going around the supermarket with a calculator to ensure I stay within budget.”

Campbell Robb, JRF chief executive, said: “We are seeing a rising tide of child poverty as more parents are unable to make ends meet, despite working. This is unacceptable. It means more families are trapped in impossible situations: struggling to pay the bills, put food on the table and dealing with the terrible stresses and strains poverty places on family life.

“It’s time for us to decide what kind of country we want to be. As we leave the EU, we must tackle the burning injustice of poverty and make Britain a country that works for everyone.”

The Department of Work and Pensions has responded in the same way that it did to Alston’s findings – with denial.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We disagree with this report, and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, including 300,000 children.”