Government figures showed over four million children in the UK were living in relative poverty in 2018. That’s one in three. Now The Big Issue has learned that this number will rise over the next five years as Universal Credit takes hold, increasingly pushing more and more families into poverty.
New figures from the Resolution Foundation this week indicate that the number of children living in relative poverty is on course to hit 37 per cent, topping the previous record high of 34 per cent recorded in the ‘90s. By the end of 2019, it could be the majority of children in single parent families or in larger families – with two or more children – living in relative poverty.
The figures are published in the think tank’s Living Standards Outlook 2019 report – which also revealed that UK families can expect “stagnating” living standards.
The bleak forecast is driven by welfare cuts, benefit freezes and a lack of pay growth – only the latter of which is not directly down to the government, the think tank said. The UK economy’s pay performance is “struggling to get out of first gear,” said Resolution Foundation economic analyst Adam Corlett, with some households having already taken a £1,500 hit to their annual incomes.
He added that ongoing benefit cuts will continue to drive child poverty, which has already been on an upward trajectory since 2011.
“The UK’s current economic outlook is highly uncertain,” he said, “and will hopefully surprise on the upside. But whatever direction the economy takes, the government must reassess the continuation of working-age welfare cuts.”
The report, drawn from the Office for Budget Responsibility’s economic projections and the already recorded impact of Westminster policy, suggests incomes of typical working-age families are unlikely to rise over the next two years.
The report predicted low-to-middle income working households will have no more disposable income than in 2023-24, two decades earlier. After producing the report, the think tank is calling for the government to take action and curb soaring child poverty. It said that “while strengthening pay and employment is not directly within the government’s short-term control,” action is “well within their policy reach”.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The continuing failure to get to grips with rising child poverty seriously undermines what we stand for as a country.
“More and more children are going to school hungry, having to go without a proper winter coat or living in a family who are unable to afford a decent home.”
The think tank pointed out that the final year of the benefit freeze starts in April this year (which is set to reduce incomes by £1.5bn).
But the report did note that if the UK could replicate the “employment success” of the last two years and get another 900,000 people into work, average earnings would grow significantly.
Louisa McGeehan, director of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Today’s report is a wake-up call for the government. After years of deep social security cuts we are on the cusp of a child poverty crisis which will damage both the life chances of a generation and the wider economy.
“In the UK we have been very successful at reducing poverty among pensioners but we have allowed child poverty to rise. That is unjustifiable in a country that is compassionate and believes that every child matters. It’s only by re-investing in struggling families that the government can avoid presiding over record levels of child poverty.”