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Dramatic rise in child poverty in North East England in the last five years shows the scale of the ‘levelling up’ challenge

Newly released figures have revealed that even before the pandemic, in some parts of the UK, the majority of children were growing up in poverty, once housing costs are taken into account.

Research, carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition and published in Local indicators of child poverty after housing costs, 2019/20, shows that the North East of England has seen the most dramatic rise in child poverty in the past five years, fuelled by stagnating family incomes. In London high housing costs are pushing many families to the brink.

Overall, in the North East, the child poverty rate has risen by over a third – from 26 per cent to 37 per cent – over five years, moving from just below the UK average to the second highest of any region, after London. A third of the overall increase happened in the latest year (2019/20) with many low-paid workers pushed below the poverty line by the freeze in their in-work benefits. 

Over the years, the proportion of children living in poverty who are in a household with at least one working adult has also increased sharply across the UK, up from two-thirds (67 per cent) five years ago to three-quarters (75 per cent).

The new data also confirm London and Birmingham as having the greatest concentrations of child poverty with a dozen constituencies showing the majority of children living below the poverty line, even before large numbers of people started losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Of the UK nations, Wales has the highest percentage of children living in poverty nationwide (31 per cent), followed by England (30 per cent) then Scotland and Northern Ireland (24 per cent each).

The End Child Poverty Coalition is calling on the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children's lives and to create a credible plan to end child poverty which must include a commitment to increase child benefits. Given the extent to which families are already struggling, the planned £20 p/w cut to Universal Credit in October should be revoked, says the coalition. The support should also be extended to those still receiving financial assistance from the old benefit system, referred to as 'legacy benefits', before they are switched to Universal Credit.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition said:

"The figures speak for themselves – the situation for children couldn't be starker. We all want to live in a society where children are supported to be the best they can be, but the reality is very different for too many.

"The UK Government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about 'levelling up' parts of the country hardest hit by poverty. After the year we've all had, they owe it to our children to come up with a plan to tackle child poverty that includes a boost to children's benefits. And they need to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit given parents and children are having a tough enough time as it is."

For the full report, as well as tables with Constituency and Local Authority data, click here. For comment by the British Association of Social Workers, click here.

21/5/21