New poverty stats show highest ever number of children living in poverty in the UK

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Kelly Corcoran - Digital Communications Officer
Wednesday 27 March 2024
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Recently released poverty stats for the UK show 100,000 more children are growing up in poverty in 2022/23 vs. 2021/22.

That’s 4.3 million children going without the safe and happy childhoods they deserve. But what else did the stats show about the levels of child poverty in the UK? And what does this mean for children growing up right now?

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Last year, we helped 765,905 families, children, and young people. With your help, we could reach more.


Measuring poverty

Whether a family is considered to be in poverty is dependent on household income, which is measured in both ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ terms.

Relative poverty refers to people living in households with income below 60% of the average (median) for that year. Whether you are in poverty is determined by what your income is, relative to the income of the rest of the population.

The ‘poverty line’ will therefore move as average incomes rise or fall in any given year.

Absolute poverty refers to people living in households with income below 60% of the average (median) income as it was in 2010/11, adjusted for inflation. Under an absolute measure, the poverty line is mostly fixed to a particular point in time (in this case, 2010/11), and is only adjusted upwards in line with inflation.

In a healthy economy when living standards are rising faster than prices, absolute poverty should always fall.

Both the relative and absolute poverty measures are calculated before and after housing costs are included. When discussing poverty at Action for Children, we use the relative poverty measure after housing costs. This is because it best reflects the financial resources required to participate in society as it is today.

So, what do the poverty stats say about child poverty in the UK?

In the UK right now, 4.3 million children are living in poverty. That’s 30% of all children - an increase of 100,000 since 2021/22 or 700,000 since 2012/13.

There are 1.9 million children growing up in material deprivation. This means their families can’t afford essentials like fruit and vegetables, a warm home, or social activities and hobbies.

30% of children

are growing up in poverty

Children in 'absolute' poverty

There was also an increase in poverty measured in 'absolute' terms. Between 2021/22 and 2022/23, the number of children living in absolute poverty increased from 3.3 to 3.6 million (or from 23% to 25% of children).

This is the first time absolute poverty has risen since 2018 and the largest annual increase in absolute child poverty on record. This is because soaring inflation caused average incomes to fall in 2022/23, so more families were pulled below the 2010/11 poverty line.

Children are also the hardest hit by poverty.

According to the new poverty stats, children are the most at risk of poverty, with three in ten children being in poverty in the UK (30%). This is compared to 20% of working-age adults and 16% of pensioners.

Boy in uniform neutral expression

What does rising poverty mean for children?

It means more families than ever struggling to afford the basic essentials like food, heating, a roof over their head. We’ve seen parents going without dinner to feed their children. Children sleeping on the floor because their parents can’t afford them a bed. Or going to school with holes in their shoes.

Whichever way you measure it, children fare the worst:

Soaring levels of child poverty and food insecurity should shock us all. In this election year, all parties must set out their plan for tackling it. That means investing in social security and scrapping policies that actively make poverty worse, alongside wider reform to address work barriers and increase the supply of decently paid, secure jobs

Joe Lane, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action for Children

Thankfully, we have hundreds of frontline workers helping families every day. Topping up the meter, putting food on the table, offering support when they have nowhere else to turn. We’ve been a vital lifeline for vulnerable families and young people across the UK. And with your help, we can continue to reach those who need us most.

Help us reach more children

Last year, we helped 765,905 families, children, and young people. With your help, we could reach more.


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