1.6m children still in severe poverty

By Hannah Brenton

Over 1.6 million children still live in severe poverty in the UK, according to charity Save the Children.

That figures for 2008/09 show that 13% of all the country’s children live in severe poverty, despite a small decline since 2007/08.

Save the Children described the rate as “stubbornly high” and called upon the government to set out clear commitments to eliminate severe child poverty, calling it a “political choice”.

“The government can ensure no child grows up in severe child poverty if it has the political will to do so,” the charity said.

The figures show that in 29 local authorities more than one in five children live in severe poverty, with children in Manchester and Tower Hamlets the hardest hit – over 25% live in severe poverty.

London had the highest regional rate of children in severe poverty at 18%.

The charity warned that cuts to public services would exasperate the situation for low-income families, with joblessness the main cause of child poverty.

“Public sector job losses and changes to benefits in the coming years risk increasing severe child poverty, especially in those areas with high levels of deprivation,” it said.

Save the Children criticised government welfare cuts and increases in VAT, saying families in severe poverty could “ill afford” the changes.

A government spokesperson said ministers were fully committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020, with a strategy to be outlined in March. They said the welfare reforms would benefit struggling families.

“Over the last decade vast sums of money has been poured into the benefits system in an attempt to address poverty, this approach has failed,” they said.

“Our radical welfare reforms will benefit the poorest in society, helping 350,000 children out of poverty, and targeting support at those who need it most to make work pay and break the benefits trap. We know that work is the best route out of poverty.

“The government has commissioned a number of reviews to look at how we can break the cycle and impact of deprivation on children’s life chances.

“We have introduced a new fairness premium, worth £7.2 billion in total over the spending review period, to support the poorest at every stage of their education.”

Under the previous government, prime minister Gordon Brown promoted the eradication of child poverty as one of his key projects, but the figures show only a “small drop” in numbers.

Labour’s Kate Green said the report showed there had been progress under Labour.

“Save the Children is right to warn about the impact of rising unemployment, the VAT increase and unfair cuts to welfare,” she said.

“Labour made great progress in this important area – lifting 600,000 children out of poverty by the time we left office. It would be a tragedy if this progress was now reversed by the Conservative-led government’s decision to go too far and too fast with deficit reduction.”

Save the Children compiles the number of children living in severe poverty by measuring households earning less than 50% of middle incomes, where both children and adults are going without basic material goods.

“Families in severe poverty are getting by on less than £134 per week for a lone parent with one child and less than £240 per week for a couple with two children,” the children’s charity added.