Fears coronavirus lockdown will increase child poverty in UK as latest figures show rise of almost a fifth in the last four years

SOURCE: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/news/2020/may/coronavirus-lockdown-increase-child-poverty-in-uk/

  • Child poverty was rising rapidly before coronavirus hit family incomes
  • Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, child poverty increased by nearly a fifth, from 15.6% to 18.4%, before the pressure of rising housing costs on families is taken into account
  • Loughborough University analysis shows how this increase varies greatly across the UK
  • Highest increase came in the North East, where child poverty rose from 17.3% to 23.7% (+6.5%)
  • The East Midlands region remains unchanged at 16.6% (-/+0%). However, the West Midlands, it rose from 19.1% to 23.8%, widening the gap between the two Midlands regions
  • Temporary boosts to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit should be made permanent and more widely available to help those families who are struggling

New research shows that child poverty in the UK has increased by 2.8% in the last four years, but experts fear the figure will grow due to the impact of coronavirus.

Researchers from Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) have analysed data that shows which regions, local authorities and parliamentary constituencies are most at risk of deprivation.

The report, published today by the charity End Child Poverty, highlights the North East as the biggest regional area of concern, with a 6.5% rise between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

Overall, the highest rates of child poverty are seen in northern local authorities such as Oldham, Middlesbrough and Blackburn, where nearly four in ten children are in poverty.

The ongoing COVID-19 lockdown is putting struggling families under even more financial pressure and could drag even more people below the poverty threshold, say the report’s authors.

Professor Donald Hirsch, director of CRSP, who led the study, said: “As we went into the present crisis, child poverty rates were rising after years of austerity culminating in a freeze in out of work benefits. A month before the freeze was lifted, the country went into lockdown.

“Many families around the country are struggling to keep their heads above water, faced with uncertain income and the pressures of looking after and educating children at home.

“The Government’s response to this has the potential to put more money into the hands of some of those families.

“It is helping many stay in jobs through the furlough scheme and is improving safety net incomes for some families who are out of work or in low paid jobs, by giving them around £1,000 a year more – for 12 months – if they are on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit.”

However, millions of people still rely on the older benefits and tax credit system, including Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and Income Support, and are not eligible for the additional subsidy if they are not working.

Prof Hirsch said: “Our evidence showed that before the crisis, an out of work family got only just over half what they needed for a decent living standard if they relied on these benefits.

“The improvements brought in by the Chancellor have not closed this gap, but they have reduced the shortfall.

“And it is puzzling that an out of work family still on the old tax credits system gets nothing, but one in exactly the same situation – but on Universal Credit – gets £1,000 more this year. 

“In the longer term, families will be hoping that these improvements to the safety net are followed through beyond the present crisis.

“The logic is that if we want children to be able to live at a minimum acceptable level, these improvements, announced as temporary, should become permanent.”