The number of UK children trapped in poverty could reach nearly FIVE million by 2020, a leading UK children’s charity has warned.
Save the Children say that the number of children living in relative poverty is set to soar by 1.4 million between now and 2020.
The figure represents a 41% increase on the number of children already regarded as being in poverty, which currently stands at an estimated 3.5 million.
The report ‘A Fair Start For Every Child‘ reveals that children have been forced to bear the brunt of government austerity cuts, in what Save the Children describe as a “triple whammy of years of flat wages, cuts to benefits and the rising cost of living”.
Figures show that child poverty rates stalled between 1998 and 2004, but are now rising at an unprecedented rate – particularly since the Tory-led coalition government came to office in 2010.
Two-thirds of all children living in poverty come from a household where at least one adult is working with the UK now having one of the highest rates of poverty wages in the developed world.
According to the charity, food prices have risen 19% more than any other goods and the cost of childcare for children under the age of two has increased by 77% between 2003 and 2013.
The report reminds all political parties that ‘eradicating’ child poverty was ‘enshrined’ into law as part of the Child Poverty Act.
Despite this, the charity argues no party has come up with a ‘viable strategy’ to ending child poverty in the UK, and dismiss the new laws as “window dressing”.
Save the Children also argue that poverty not only affects a child’s health and well-being but also their education.
Poor children are less likely to achieve five good GCSE’s, the charity argues, and twice as likely to be obese.
Save the Children is calling on the government to ensure that every child in the UK has access to affordable childcare and a ‘minimum income guarantee’ for every family with a child under the age of five.
The charity is also demanding a “national mission” to address poor reading standards by bringing together schools, businesses, society and the government in a move which will guarantee that all children have an acceptable standard of reading by the time they reach 11 years of age.
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s CEO said:
“We’re increasingly worried that unless there is a dramatic change of course we’re at risk of writing off the future of millions of British children, giving them an unfair start in life.
“This isn’t just a question of statistics; we see families through our programmes around the UK who are really struggling.
“Millions of children in the UK are being left behind – sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.
“Far too many of our children are living in cold and damp homes, without healthy food, with parents who can see no end to their situation.
“If we ignore the rising toll of poverty we are blighting the future of a further 1.4million children. In one of the world’s richest countries there is simply no excuse.”
“The current all-party commitments to social security cuts in the next Parliament combined with underlying labour market trends and inflation mean no party has a coherent plan to avoid this crisis.
“Our political class is sleepwalking towards the highest levels of child poverty since records began while promising to eradicate it completely.
“It’s time our politicians face the scale of the crisis head on and each party set out a concrete plan to get us back on track ahead of the general election.”
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP, recently outlined new government proposals to tackling child poverty in the UK, however the move was branded as “a serious missed opportunity” by David Cameron’s own Social Mobility adviser, Alan Milburn.
Responding to the government’s consultation, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP said that the government was far more interested in “squabbling over how poverty is defined”, and The Children’s Society said:
“The Government’s continued commitment to ending child poverty is welcome. But its strategy has no new ideas on how to make this a reality.
“Too many of the strategy’s measures will fail to end child poverty. Some will make the problem worse”.
Save the Children surveyed 4,000 parents with varying levels of income and found that 50% has seen their incomes fall since the start of the global economic downturn five years ago.
70% said they were experiencing difficulties in keeping up with the cost of living and 40% has slipped into debt.
Responding to Save the Children’s report, Rachel Reeves MP said:
“The last Labour government lifted over one million children out of poverty, built children’s centres and introduced child tax credits.
“Under David Cameron child poverty is set to rise, not fall, and the cost-of-living crisis has left millions of families struggling to make ends meet.
“A Labour government will freeze energy prices, raise the minimum wage, extend free childcare provision, scrap the Bedroom Tax and introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get people off benefits and into work.”