Midlands and northern cities see spike in child poverty rates

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Midlands region and northern towns and cities have seen the sharpest increase in child poverty in England over the last four years, research has revealed.

Middlesborough saw the highest rise in child poverty rates between 2014/15 and 2018/19. Picture: Adobe Stock
Middlesborough saw the highest rise in child poverty rates between 2014/15 and 2018/19. Picture: Adobe Stock

Nationally the child poverty rate after housing costs has risen by two percentage points from 28 per cent in 2014/15 to 30 per cent in 2018/19.

But in the area with the highest rise in child poverty, Middlesbrough, the rise has been 16 percentage points over the same period. In the town almost half of children (47.2 per cent) are living in poverty after housing costs.

Meanwhile, Birmingham Hodge Hill has seen a rise of 13.4 percentage points and more than half of children (53.8 per cent) in the areas are living in child poverty. The majority of children (54.5 per cent) in Birmingham Ladywood are living in poverty after housing costs, the research found.

Constituencies with the highest increase (in percentage points) in child poverty (below 60% median income) after housing costs, between 2014/15 and 2018/19

  • Middlesbrough - 16%
  • Newcastle upon Tyne - 13.5%
  • Birmingham Hodge Hill – 13.4%
  • Bradford West – 12.9%
  • Birmingham Ladywood – 12.7%

The most affected areas have been hit hardest by rising housing costs, found the research by academics at Loughborough University and published by the End Child Poverty campaign.

It found that in the past, low wages were counteracted by cheaper housing costs. But in the five years to 2018/19 rents have risen markedly nationally, plunging more families into poverty.

“So in places where incomes are being depressed, this is less likely to be offset by falling relative housing costs,” said the End Child Poverty campaign.

“Many of these families find, that once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left no option but to turn to crisis help, like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals.”

Anna Feuchtwang, chair of End Child Poverty, added: “The government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ disadvantaged parts of the country.

“This new data reveals the true extent of the hardship experienced by families on low incomes – the overwhelming majority of which were working households before the pandemic. The children affected are on a cliff edge, and the pandemic will only sweep them further into danger.

“The Prime Minister must urgently admit to the true extent of child poverty in our country rather than resorting to his own inaccurate statistics. An ambitious plan to put this shameful situation right would be transformational for millions of children.”

Among recommendations made is to ramp up housing assistance in line with inflation. The government should also retain the current £20 uplift in Universal Credit, introduced at the start of Covid-19 lockdown, which is due to end in April, the campaign groups states.

In addition, ministers should end benefit caps, including the two-child limit on benefits, increase child benefit and extend free school meals to all families in receipt of universal credit.

The National Education Union’s joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak in response to the End Child Poverty figures. They have called for a raft of measures to ensure children in poverty are better supported amid the Covid-19 health crisis.

This includes backing End Child Poverty’s call for expanded free school meals and also to provide free household internet for children and young people in households in receipt of Universal Credit. In addition they want the government to introduce a dedicated technology budget to ensure schools can increase digital remote learning to help diadvantaged pupils in particular.

Their letter states: “The health pandemic has shone a light on the barriers for students living in low income and poor families, such as the digital divide – so we think now is the time to attack the ways in which poverty holds students back.”

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