Child poverty is real. It disrupts childhoods and harms children's life chances. What can be done to change this?

We must act now

Explore the impact of child poverty in your area, and send this to your MP

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About 3 in 10 of all children in the UK are growing up in low-income households. In some areas, more than half of children are growing up without the money they need to thrive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can cut child poverty if we want to, and stop children from suffering. Families need direct financial support. They need a social security system they can rely on, not one that punishes them.

Poverty stats from 2022 23 UK poverty stats update - 4.3 million children in the UK are living in poverty, that is 3 in 20 children in the UK

What is poverty?

Poverty is a lack of money that leaves families struggling to:

  • Afford the essentials.
  • Enjoy a decent standard of living.
  • Share the simple family experiences that all children should get to enjoy.

A child is in poverty if they are growing up in a family with an income below 60% of the average. This is known as relative poverty and it can be measured either before or after housing costs are considered.

At Action for Children, we define child poverty using relative poverty after housing costs are included. It is important to account for housing costs, as they vary considerably across the country. For example, a family in an area with very high rents, like London, is left with a lot less to budget with after their rent is paid than a family on the same income in another part of the country where rent is much cheaper.

Action for Children Natalia Chloe case study

Natalia, mum to one-year old Chloe, received support from Action for Children after needing to skip meals to afford the essentials.

I’m still using a foodbank every week to make sure Chloe has enough to eat. I often go without food to make sure she has enough... Now, I’ve lost £20 a week in Universal Credit – that’s such a lot of money to me.”


What does growing up in poverty mean for a child?

Every child deserves a safe and happy childhood, full of hope for the future. Growing up in poverty can make this difficult because it affects:

  • Family life: Their parents may have to work several jobs, or late nights, to try and make ends meet. Their family can't afford to go on holiday. Crowded housing means they might not have space to play, or peace and quiet when they need it. The pressure of financial problems can cause frustration and arguments.
  • Food: They might not have much choice of food. They might miss out on important food like protein and fresh vegetables, because these are more expensive. When things get bad, they might need to rely on a foodbank. Sometimes, their parents may skip meals.
  • School life: School should be an equal playing field. But not having enough money leaves children feeling left out. They can miss exciting trips, or not be able to join a sports team. If they don't have the right uniform, like an expensive branded blazer, they may be told off, or even taken out of lessons. If space is tight at home, they might struggle to get their homework done.
  • Education: All this can lead to a child falling behind. Poverty often holds a child back from achieving their full potential. Whether that's learning to read in their early years, or getting top grades at GCSE. This makes it harder to get the jobs or further education they want.
  • Mental health: Their parents try to protect them from money stresses, but children still pick up on the worry. They wish they could help. They worry about the future and about all the things they might miss out on because they can't afford them. This anxiety can leave them feeling alone, cut off from their friends. It can also take away their confidence and affect their self-esteem.

Not every child and family will have the same experience of poverty. But across the UK, too many are facing its cruel realities. That’s why we're campaigning for a fairer social security system which keeps families safe, rather than pushing them into poverty.

1836 Policy website infographics poverty-01

What are we calling on the government to do?

Our frontline staff have told us that child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember. We urgently need the government to:

1. Increase the child element of Universal Credit by £15 a week.
Benefit levels are just too low. They often aren't enough to keep the fridge full, or the bailiffs at bay. Investment in Universal Credit is vital to ensure parents can at least meet their children's basic needs.

2. Remove the cruel benefit cap.
The cap sets the maximum amount of benefits a household can receive. In practice, it overwhelmingly affects families with children and predominantly single parent households (69%), who are more likely to face barriers to work. The main effect of the cap is to push families into deeper poverty and trap them there, while saving very little money for the taxpayer and building up even more costly problems for the future.

3. End the unfair two-child limit.
This is a harmful rule which denies an additional child payment in Universal Credit - worth at least £3,235 a year, to a third or subsequent children. Introduced in 2017, it now affects 1.5 million children. By depriving children of much needed income to meet their basic needs, it is one of the biggest drivers of rising child poverty. Scrapping it would lift 250,000 children out of poverty overnight.

4. Tackle barriers to work and opportunity.
71% of children in poverty are in working families. But low wages, insecure jobs and the high cost of childcare means that work doesn't always pay. And for single parents, disabled parents, or parents who are carers, there are many barriers to getting into and staying in work.

We must act now

Explore the impact of child poverty in your area, and send this to your MP

Use our tool (opens in a new tab)
Family of four reaching into a food delivery package from Action for Children

We are here to support you. For information on the services and help we provide:

  • call us on 0300 123 2112, or
  • search to find out what services are local to you.

Financial Support:

Citizens Advice has information for those struggling with living costs. You can also use the Turn2Us Benefits Calculator to make sure you are receiving all the support you are entitled to. Alongside these you can also get in touch with your MP as their office might be able to offer some more guidance and access to local support. It’s also important your MP knows about the financial struggles of their constituents.

Parenting Advice:

At Action for Children, we know that financial strain can put pressure on all sorts of other areas of family life. Our Parent Talk service offers free advice for parents and carers of children aged 0-19 in the UK. Our parenting coaches have seen and solved it all – no topic is too big, small, or embarrassing. Whatever your background or experiences, we want to help. We know that everyone’s challenges are unique, and we aim to offer a welcoming and trusted place to get support. Read our articles for tips or talk to us on our chat service for more in-depth support.

Our latest research

We help decision-makers think about and act on the needs of children and young people. We publish reports looking at how living on a low income is affecting families with children in the UK. We also produce policy recommendations laying out what steps the government can take to tackle poverty and improve outcomes for children.

Recent policy reports:

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