New government figures reveal that 4.2 million children and young people were living in poverty during the 2021/22 financial year. This is an increase of 300,000 since 2020/21, when child poverty reduced from 4.3 million children pre-pandemic to 3.9 million children.
A child or a young person is considered to be in poverty if they live in a household whose income is below 60% of the median income for that year. This is also known as relative poverty. More commonly, poverty can be understood as not having the resources to meet the basic needs of the society you are living in, including access to adequate food, heat and shelter.
Food insecurity is often considered a metric of poverty as it is closely linked to low income and broadly means you are unable to access sufficient nutritious food. According to the most recent data, 1.7 million children and young people in the UK live in food insecure households, which is the same as pre-pandemic levels. Worryingly, this means that no progress has been made in reducing the number of children and young people at risk of hunger since the outbreak of the pandemic. This particularly troubling when considering a new metric collected by Government which measures the number of children and young people who have accessed food banks in the last 12 months. In 2021/22, almost one million children and young people accessed a food bank in the UK; food bank usage is a symptom of severe poverty. While Magic Breakfast welcomes the addition of this question to the survey, as this shows acknowledgement of the issue by Government, it is important the Government now uses these findings to take practical steps to reduce child poverty and hunger.
Sadly, the current situation for children and young people in the UK is likely to be worse than these statistics suggest. The present cost-of-living crisis, which puts pressures on households’ ability to afford food, means the number of children and young people living in food insecurity has only increased since this data was captured. The most recent figures from the Food Foundation reveal that 4 million children are living in households that experience food insecurity.
Addressing child poverty in the UK is crucial as it has long-term consequences for children and young people’s health, education and future life opportunities. Children living in poverty are more likely to experience poor health, lower academic achievement, and reduced economic prospects later in life. It is vital we address child poverty in the UK to ensure that every child can thrive and reach their full potential.
Addressing poverty is more urgent than ever given the high cost of living, especially for basic necessities like energy and food, which has been a continuing trend since this data was captured.
A strong social security system, based on progressive and targeted policies can have a significant impact on reducing child poverty. It is great news that child poverty in Scotland has slightly decreased and it is clear that the Scottish Government’s policies are making an impact for young Scots. This includes the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Action Plan and game changing Scottish Child Payment. Actions like these mean families are given the means to be lifted out of poverty and give the Government impetus to focus on policies which support young Scots to thrive. With actions from both of Scotland’s governments child poverty has gone from 26% to 23%. However, this number remains perniciously high. The Scottish Government’s own targets say that in the next financial year child poverty should be at a maximum of 18% and it should be 10% by the end of the decade. If the Scottish Government are to meet this, they need to move faster and act further to support the youngest in society. This should include delivering on the commitment to provide breakfast in all primary and special schools.
Perhaps the most significant driver of poverty reduction in the past few years, in both England and Scotland, has been the temporary uplift to universal credit during the pandemic. This temporary increase was introduced in response to the economic fallout of the pandemic and was rolled out in March 2020 before it was withdrawn in October 2021. As a result, vulnerable families in the UK saw their income grow in the face of the consequences of the pandemic. However, since this uplift was removed, we are seeing a reverse trend with child poverty returning to pre-pandemic levels.
It is in the Government gift to reduce child poverty and therefore food insecurity as we have seen through these policies. A joined-up effort by Governments, the third sector and the general public is needed now to end the systemic issue of child poverty in the UK so every child can reach their full potential.