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New research published today (Wednesday) by the TUC (produced by Landman Economics) finds that 56,000 children of key workers in the North East are living in poverty.

The research, which used the government definition for key workers, found that over a million children of key workers across the UK are living in poverty.

The North East has the highest rate of child poverty in key worker households (29%), followed by London (27%), the West Midlands (25%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (25%).

Government policies could worsen key worker poverty

The TUC says the main reasons for key worker family poverty are low pay and insecure hours - factors that often coincide in occupations such as care workers, delivery drivers or supermarket staff.

High housing costs further reduce keyworker family budgets for essentials like groceries and utility bills. And support through Universal Credit is not enough to guarantee families avoid poverty.

Current government policies are likely to increase child poverty rates. Ministers have capped pay rises for key workers in the public sector, which in some cases will mean real wage losses. And the chancellor is planning to cut Universal Credit for low-income families by £20 per week in October.

The TUC warns that these policies will put the brakes on the nation’s economic recovery by curbing household spending. This will restrain business activity, and impact on wage growth for other workers across the economy.

TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said:

“All our key workers in the North East deserve a decent standard of living for their family. But too often their hard work is not paying off like it should. And they struggle to keep up with the basic costs of family life.

“The prime minister has promised to ‘build back fairer’. He should start with our key workers. They put themselves in harm’s way to keep the country going through the pandemic. Now, we must be there for them too.

“This isn’t just about doing right by key workers. If we put more money in the pockets of working families, their spending will help our businesses and high streets recover in the North East. It’s the fuel in the tank that our economy needs.”

Responding to the TUC’s findings, director of the North East Child Poverty Commission Amanda Bailey said:

"Our region went into the Covid-19 pandemic with high and rapidly growing rates of child poverty – with the majority of children and young people affected having parents or carers in work.

"These new figures confirm that, whilst key workers have been absolutely critical in keeping the country going throughout this terrible pandemic, many having been doing so with the huge, added pressure of struggling to make ends meet for their families.

"If the Government is serious about building back better from Covid-19, a plan to reduce and then end child poverty must be front and centre of this agenda. This must include concerted action to tackle the working poverty that has become endemic for far too many families in our region over the last decade, coupled with investment in a strong social security system that provides a genuine safety net to families facing tough times.

"It’s not right that thousands of low-paid key workers and their children face an imminent £20 a week cut to Universal Credit, and the Government can make a start by reversing this."

Support needed for key worker families

The TUC is calling on the government to guarantee decent living standards for key worker families by:

  • Raising the national minimum wage to £10 per hour immediately.
  • Ending the freeze on public service workers’ pay and give all public service workers a decent pay rise.
  • Funding the public sector so that all outsourced workers are paid at least the real Living Wage and get parity with directly employed staff.
  • Cancelling the £20 cut to Universal Credit, which is set to hit low-income families in October, and set out plans to increase child benefit above inflation each year across the parliament.
Editors note

Children in poverty in key worker households by UK nation and region


Children in poverty in key worker families

Proportion of children in poverty in key worker families

North East



North West



Yorks & the Humber



East Midlands



West Midlands



East of England






South East



South West












Methodology: Landman Economics combined information from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and Family Resource Survey (FRS) for 2019/20 to calculate the number of children live in key worker households and how many of those households are in poverty. All figures are based on household income after housing costs.

About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

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