Slow wage growth and the cruel Tory freeze on benefits have been blamed for the huge toll – despite Theresa May claiming she’d fight “burning injustices”
Tory ministers are accused of presiding over a “national scandal” after damning new figures revealed 4.1million children are in poverty.
Stagnant wages and the cruel benefit freeze mean the huge total refused to fall – despite Theresa May’s pledge to fight “burning injustices” on her first day in Downing Street.
Annual Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show 4.1million children were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2017/18, around the same as the year before.
More than 2million (53%) are under five, up from 51% a year earlier. 700,000 children in “severe” poverty, up from 600,000. And the number of children in absolute poverty, a different measure, rose by 200,000 to 3.7million.
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said: “It is surely wrong, in a just and compassionate society, that so many children are growing up in poverty.
“It is particularly worrying that the numbers of children in severe and absolute poverty are both rising.”
Meanwhile experts warn a whopping 70% of children in poverty now live in working families – up from 67% the year before – after incomes “stagnated”.
In total 8million people in poverty were in working families, the Trades Union Congress said.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Millions of people are working hard, but still locked in poverty – that’s not right.
“The system is broken, with low pay, insecure work and the benefits freeze trapping families below the breadline.”
The Child Poverty Action Group warned the Tories’ cruel benefit freeze will plunge another 100,000 children into poverty by 2023-24.
Chief executive Alison Garnham said the figures make “grim reading” adding: “A coalition of charities came together to ask the Chancellor to take the opportunity of his Spring Statement to end the benefit freeze and bring families in from the cold. But the government chose not to.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood branded the figures a “national scandal” and a “disgrace”.
Accusing Tory ministers of “complacency and denial”, she told the House of Commons: “Today’s figures are truly shocking.
“They highlight the devastating impact of austerity on families across the country.”
She added there had been a “sharp increase in foodbank use” as Universal Creditrolled out, adding: “We are one of the richest countries in the world and this is a source of national shame. We are seeing families unable to feed their children.
“When will the government wake up to the poverty crisis that is besetting our country?”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the problem was partly due to incomes failing to grow for the first time since 2012/13.
Adam Corlett of the Resolution Foundation added: “Typical household income growth ground to a halt in 2017 as a result of high inflation and weak pay growth.
“Ongoing benefit cuts also meant that the number of children living in absolute poverty also increased by 200,000 – the first time this has happened since 2012.
“With the bulk of the Government’s £12 billion of welfare cuts taking place after this period, child poverty is likely to continue rising, and could even hit a record high within the next few years.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank, said: “Poverty is a scar on our nation’s conscience.
“Today’s figures support what we are hearing from communities across the UK which is that more working families are struggling to make ends meet.”
Overall the total number of people living in relative poverty fell from 14.3million to 14million.
But Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd admitted the figures were “disappointing” – and vowed to lobby Chancellor Philip Hammond for benefit cash ahead of this year’s spending review.
She told MPs: “I have acknowledged that today’s statistics are disappointing and I am highlighting that there is more to be done, both in terms of other services around benefits and in terms of my engagement with the Chancellor.”
She added “no one in government wants to see poverty rise” and “we all came into politics to help people plot a path to a better life.”
And she said since April 2018, when the figures end, there had been “nearly a year of real wage growth” and more money put into Universal Credit.
A Government spokesman said: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.
“Employment is at a record high, wages are outstripping inflation and income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010. But we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.
“We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.”