Families with young children ‘facing steep rise in poverty’

Some 36% of children in families with a child under five were living in relative poverty in 2019-20, according to data.

Children’s Toys Stock
Children’s Toys Stock

More than a third of children in UK families with a child under five are living in relative poverty, research suggests.

Families with babies and young children are facing a steep rise in poverty that is largely down to changes to the benefit system, according to an evidence review by the Nuffield Foundation.

The findings have been published ahead of a significant change to the benefits system with the removal of a £20-a-week Universal Credit increase, which campaigners say will push thousands more into hardship.

The charity examined patterns in relative poverty – defined in comparison with the rest of society – for the under-fives over the last 20 years, drawing on more than 100 research studies and other sources.

It found that rates have fluctuated since 2000, with a “sustained increase” since 2013-14.

This is largely down to the two-child limit benefits policy and reduction of in-work support, but also the rise in insecure work and growth of the private rental market, the review said.

Some 36% of children in families with a child under five were living in relative poverty in 2019-20, according to Government figures, affecting 2.2 million children.

This rose to 52% of children living in families with three or more children.

The data, from the Department for Work and Pensions, covers the number and proportion of children in families where household income is below 60% of median contemporary income after housing costs.

Some ethnic minority families face a higher risk – 71% of children in families where the youngest child is under five from Bangladeshi backgrounds were living in relative poverty on average between 2017-20.

In several other minority ethnic groups, over half of families were living in relative poverty, the review said.

Disabled families are also more likely to be affected, with 44% of children in families where the youngest child is under five, and where an adult or child has a disability, living in relative poverty in 2019-20.

The review also found that a growing proportion of parents remain in poverty even though they are in paid employment.

The review – Changing patterns of poverty in early childhood – criticises the “lack of a sustained, consistent policy commitment to addressing child poverty over the last 20 years”.

It says the most significant fall in child poverty was in the late 90s and early noughties, reflecting increased spending on cash benefits and tax credits by the Labour government.

Carey Oppenheim, early childhood lead at the Nuffield Foundation and report author, said: “The increase in poverty for families with children under five is stark and has both short and long-term implications for children’s development and future.

“Addressing early childhood poverty requires an approach that provides a financial bedrock for families with young children through improved social security benefits and access to employment, as well as policies that support parental mental health and parenting from the earliest stage of a child’s life.

“Even with those measures, it will be difficult to sustain reductions in child poverty unless we also address longer-term changes in society that are contributing factors to child poverty, such as insecure and low-paid work, access to affordable and secure housing and high-quality early education.”

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