5m children 'face life of poverty'

A record five million children in the UK could be trapped in poverty by 2020, according to new research.

Save the Children warns that we are at risk of writing off the future of millions of British children
Save the Children warns that we are at risk of writing off the future of millions of British children

The report from Save the Children reveals youngsters have paid the highest price in the recession, with families being hit by a triple whammy of years of flat wages, cuts to benefits and the rising cost of living.

They have also felt the pinch with food prices increasing by 19% more than the general price level of other goods between 2007 and 2011.

Soaring childcare costs have seen the price of nursery places for children under two rise by 77% in 10 years since 2003.

Despite a cross-party commitment to end child poverty by 2020, new projections show the numbers living in poverty could increase by 1.4 million in the same period - a rise of 41% on the 3.5 million children currently living in poverty, claims the report A Fair Start For Every Child.

Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said: "We're increasingly worried that unless there is a dramatic change of course, we're at risk of writing off the future of millions of British children, giving them an unfair start in life.

"This isn't just a question of statistics, we see families through our programmes around the UK who are really struggling.

"Millions of children in the UK are being left behind - sentenced to a lifetime of poverty. Far too many of our children are living in cold and damp homes, without healthy food, with parents who can see no end to their situation.

"If we ignore the rising toll of poverty, we are blighting the future of a further 1.4 million children. In one of the world's richest countries there is simply no excuse."

The charity's estimate is based on work by Landman Economics adding projected future social security cuts, as committed to by all three major parties, to existing Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates.

It is warning that no party is setting out a viable strategy to achieve the commitments of the Child Poverty Act.

As well as setting out the damaging effects of poverty on childhood, the report highlights the effects on a child's future.

According to the research, childhood poverty increases the chances of low attainment, with only a third of the poorest children going on to achieve five good GCSEs, with the same number going on to university.

Mr Forsyth added: "The current all-party commitments to social security cuts in the next parliament combined with underlying labour market trends and inflation mean no party has a coherent plan to avoid this crisis.

"Our political class is sleepwalking towards the highest levels of child poverty since records began while promising to eradicate it completely. It's time our politicians face the scale of the crisis head-on and each party set out a concrete plan to get us back on track ahead of the general election."

The charity is calling for every child to have access to high-quality and affordable childcare, a minimum income guarantee for families with children under five, and a national mission for all children to be reading well by the time they are 11 years old.

While showing that child poverty levels fell between 1998 and 2004, the report demonstrates that they stalled thereafter - even before the financial crisis.

It further sets out that two-thirds of children in poverty now live in working households, a rise of 12%, and the UK now has one of the highest rates of low pay in the developed world.

In a national survey of 4,000 parents on a range of incomes, Save the Children found that 50% of low-income families have seen their incomes decrease in the last five years.

Around 70% had found it difficult to meet payments, with more than 40% saying they fell into debt as a result.

A Government spokesman said: "The Government is committed to ending child poverty by tackling its root causes as part of our long-term economic plan. Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty."

He added that a rise in employment means 100,000 fewer children are living in "workless poor families", while the new U niversal Credit benefit system will "make around three million households better off and lift up to 300,000 children out of poverty".