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Child poverty across the UK is worsening. Unions know how to fix it, but will the government listen?

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Ending child poverty is not just a moral imperative, it is a practical one. The TUC is calling for action from the government with 10 steps to fix child poverty here in the UK.

We are deep into the 21st century and the UK is the fifth largest economy on the planet. Child poverty ought to be something we read about in history books. But for millions of children in the UK it is a daily reality.

As a society this is something we are all responsible for, nothing less than a modern-day sin. It is also a massive failure of government.

But there are simple things the government can do to begin to end child poverty in the UK.

New research carried out by Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition was published 19 May 2021.

It found that:

  • 4.3 million children were living in poverty in the UK, in March 2020,
  • And the number of children living in poverty was up by 200,000 from the previous year, and up 500,000 over the past five years.

This reinforces the finding, reported by the TUC in March, that the number of people living in poverty had increased to 14.5 million.

And these findings are before the impact of the pandemic, so much worse is to come!

Here are four critical take-aways from the research

Nowhere is immune from the curse of child poverty - it is endemic in the UK and exists in every corner of the country.

The map and regional press releases published by the End Child Poverty Campaign show this. Even in the most affluent areas, such as Richmond Park (16%), Henley (17%), Sevenoaks (22%) and Cambridge (20%), a substantial proportion of children live in households that are poor. And both the level and rate of increase in places such as Luton, Peterborough, Crawley, Gravesham, Dover, Hastings, and Southampton are severe.

The rate of child poverty after housing costs, in Portsmouth South leapt from 28.7% in 2014/15 to 37.5% in 2019/20, an increase of 8.8%. The evolving map of child poverty is not a North-South story.

Household income from work and from welfare benefits are obviously key factors, but so are housing costs.

‘After Housing Costs’ shows the income available to a household once rent, water rates, mortgage interest payments, buildings insurance payments, ground rent and service charges are paid.

Using this measure enables a more accurate comparison of what households across the UK have available to spend on food, utilities, clothing and leisure, rather than looking at income alone. ‘Before Housing Costs’ figures greatly understate the impact of low income in areas with high housing costs, such as London, and many parts of the South East and East of England.

In some London boroughs the child poverty rate more than doubles once housing costs are accounted for. In Hackney, ignoring housing costs, 23% of children are in poverty. But the true child poverty rate, after taking housing costs into account, is 47.9%.

The largest cities are hardest hit.

The greatest concentrations of child poverty are in London and Birmingham, the UK’s two largest cities. Here are the 20 local authorities with highest child poverty rates in 2019/20, 14 of which were in London.

Local authority

% of children below 60% median income after housing costs, 2019/20



Tower Hamlets




Barking and Dagenham




Waltham Forest














Newcastle upon Tyne


















For very many families work is not a route out of poverty, rather, for them low-paid work is a route into poverty, and this is increasingly the case.

For them work simply does not pay the bills.

Over the last 5 years, the proportion of children living in poverty who are in a household with at least one working adult has increased sharply across the UK, up from two thirds (67%) five years ago, to three quarters (75%) in March 2020.

10 things the government should do to begin to fix child poverty in the UK

  1. Ensure a good job for everyone.

  2. Ban zero hours contracts.

  3. A fair pay rise for all key workers, instigate a £10 national minimum wage now, and the actively promote and pay the real living wage in London.

  4. End the privatisation and outsourcing of public sector jobs.

  5. Scrap the freeze on ‘in-work benefits’.

  6. Make the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent, and extend it to legacy benefits.

  7. The basic rate of Universal Credit needs to increase to 80 per cent of the real living wage, and end the cruel elements of the system, such as the two child-limit to tax credits, the five-week wait, and increase child benefits.

  8. Raise the threshold for Local Housing Allowance and lift the benefits cap.

  9. Investment in low-cost childcare.

  10. A national-homes building programme as part of an industrial strategy, with focus on low-cost social housing, ‘living rents’, and steps to secure private sector tenancies.

The TUC supports the challenge of levelling-up, indeed, we have been championing it for decades. But this must include levelling-up within and between regions. The worsening incidence of child poverty just made levelling-up harder. People living in poverty need action, not rhetoric.

Ending child poverty is not just a moral imperative. It is a practical one.

The damaging consequences of child poverty upon long-term educational achievements, health, employment outcomes and family breakdown are huge. Solving child poverty in the short-term means that future governments will not have to spend on fixing consequent social ‘problems’ in the future.

And the first steps are - a job for all, to make all jobs good jobs and to make sure that poverty pay really is put in the dustbin of history.

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