Employment

1 in 5 key worker families have children growing up in poverty

In the north-east of England this rises to two in five children growing up in poverty.

child reading a book on a sofa

The TUC predicts that 100,000 more children will be growing up in poverty in 2023 unless ministers take serious action. Image: Josh Applegate / UInsplash

Child poverty is increasing in families of key workers who, despite getting the UK through the pandemic, are increasingly falling into poverty, new research has found. 

The number of children growing up in poverty in key worker households has increased by 65,000 in the last two years to nearly one million, and is expected to continue to rise to 1.1 million in 2023 unless ministers take action.

The situation is most dire for key worker families in the north-east of England, where two in five children are growing up in poverty, followed by three in 10 in the north-west and London.

The research conducted by the Trades Union Congress described how the UK is “teetering on the brink of recession” as ministers refuse to raise wages anywhere near that of rising inflation. 

One third of those employed in Britain are classed as key workers under the government’s definition, which includes people working in health and social care, education, transport, police and fire service, and those who provide key public services such as broadband.

The government recently announced its yearly pay award for those in the public sector, but this was quickly dwarfed by rising inflation

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC accused government ministers of “holding down pay” that will “cause widespread hardship and put the UK at greater risk of recession.”

She said: “After the longest wage squeeze in 200 years we urgently need to get more money in the pockets of working families. This will help people get through this cost of living crisis and inject much-needed demand into our economy.”

With inflation predicted to continue to rise into 2023, the TUC calculates that ​​nurses’ real pay will be down by £1,100 this year and paramedics will see a real terms pay cut of £1,500. 

“It is particularly galling that as key workers are being told to tighten their belts, city executives are enjoying bumper bonuses,” she added. 

The pay crisis is being felt increasingly unevenly, with sectors such as finance seeing larger pay of 6.2 per cent, while the public sector saw the lowest pay rises, at 1.9 per cent. 

Inflation hit 9.1 per cent in June, outstripping average pay growth and forcing down real pay at the fastest rate since records began in the early 2000s.

The Big Issue recently revealed that a food bank had been set up for key workers at an EE call centre in North Tyneside, in the north-east.

If you are struggling with your bills, there are places you can go to get support:

  • Charitable grants offer financial support to people who are struggling – and the money doesn’t need to be paid back. You can find out what grants might be available to you using Turn2Us’ grant search. Turn2Us helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact them, they’ll check what’s available to you.
  • Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture, support you through food and fuel poverty. There are local welfare assistance schemes, also known as crisis support. Find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder. 
  • Scottish Welfare Fund is offered in Scotland to provide a safety net for people on low incomes. These include crisis grants and community care grants.
  • YoungMinds offers support for young people struggling with their mental health.
  • The Finance Support Service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. 
  • Citizens Advice offers information and services to help people who are struggling with a range of issues such as the cost of living. Contact your local Citizens Advice for help. They can also advise you as to what financial support is available from the government to help you with the cost of childcare. 
  • Food banks support people who cannot afford the essentials. Many food banks are run by the Trussell Trust and you can find your local one on their website. For advice and support you can also call one of the charity’s national helplines.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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