One in three children will be living in relative poverty by the middle of the decade without Government action, the Children’s Commissioner for England warns today.
Anne Longfield calls on ministers to come forward with a “big, bold, long-term plan” to fix the scandal.
In a statement, she says child poverty has been steadily rising for most of the past decade and is on course to return to levels not seen since the 1990s by the time of the next general election, due in 2024.
In 2010/11, 3.6 million UK youngsters were living in relative poverty after housing costs, but by 2018/19 that had risen to 4.2 million – accounting for 30% of kids.
“Child poverty was already a problem before the pandemic, but it has been laid bare by the Covid crisis and cannot be ignored any longer,” Ms Longfield says.
“The shocking image of a family being sent half a carrot in a food parcel shows a system of support that, as well as often falling short, is at times demeaning and stigmatising.”
Her call for action is supported by a cross-party group of politicians and charities, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, Robert Halfon.
Ms Longfield also backs demands for the temporary £20-a-week rise in Universal Credit, due to be axed at the end of March, to be continued.
But an extension must be followed by long-term measures, she says.
“Too often, these kind of policy changes to help people in poverty are a sticking plaster for the symptoms, made as a result of short-term political embarrassment. That must change,” adds Ms Longfield.
“Neither of the two main political parties fought the last general election on plans to reduce child poverty significantly, despite the fact it has been rising for most of the past decade.
“Politicians must take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ now, and come up with a big, bold, long-term plan for fixing it.”
Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell said: “It’s scandalous that one of the world’s richest countries continues to see numbers of children living in poverty rising each year.
“The Covid pandemic has brought this long-standing issue into the spotlight and it is vital the government does not ignore the crisis any longer.
“We know poverty has a devastating impact on children’s futures.
“Yet years of under-investment in education, social security, children’s services and mental health services has meant support mechanisms, designed to help families, are buckling under financial pressures at the same time as experiencing a rise in demand.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of headteachers’ union NAHT, said: “This country’s record on child poverty is truly shocking.
“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds have disproportionately suffered from cuts not just to education, but to all the wider services that should be there to help them.
“Successive governments have failed to invest in those who need it the most.
“The consequence has been the need to pour money into helping poor families during this crisis, which could have been avoided if the Government had taken action sooner to fix the root causes of poverty.”
A Government spokesman said: “We are committed to making sure every child gets the best start in life, and this is central to our steadfast determination to level up opportunity across the country.
“That’s why we’ve targeted our support to families most in need by raising the living wage and spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs.
“Additionally, we have boosted welfare support by billions, introduced the £170million Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families during the coldest months and expanded our successful Holiday Activities and Food programme to cover all the major school holidays in 2021.”