21st January 2021

Child poverty: the crisis we can’t keep ignoring

Child poverty will continue to rise during this Parliament unless the Government commits to a bold, broad response. We are one of the most prosperous nations yet the number of children living in poverty is shocking and it is a cause for national shame. Child poverty has long been a fundamental problem facing Britain, and holding back millions of children. Even before Covid there were two fundamental facts that show how serious the situation has become:

  1. Children are the group of the population most likely to be in poverty, and child poverty has been rising in absolute and relative terms for nearly a decade during which pensioner poverty has fallen consistently and dramatically.
  2. The gap between children eligible for free school meals and their peers is now widening, after decades of continuous progress in closing this gap.

In other words, even before Covid levels of child poverty in England were getting higher, just at the outcomes for children growing up in poverty are getting worse.

The Covid crisis has shone a light on the realities this translates to: children going hungry and families – many of them working – relying on charity and living week to week. The strains on family life and on children are enormous and the impact of children’s development and life chances is clear. Some of the stories I hear from families and children wouldn’t be out of place in a 19th century Dickens novel. From the children whose parents won’t let them go to school because they couldn’t afford to self-isolate if their child got Covid, to the children who spent lockdown waiting on the doorstep for their school to deliver lunch – the only meal of the day. Or the schools desperately trying to raise 50p per child to provide a morning bagel, knowing they can use the leftovers to feed Mum.

This is a problem we must not ignore any longer.

Key statistics


children shifted into poverty by the planned £20/week cut to Universal Credit in April 2021


children in England living in a household where someone had been forced to skip a meal in the last week in April 2020


increase in the number of emergency food parcels given to children by the Trussell Trust in April 2020 compared to April 2019


Median annual earnings among adults aged 28 who were on free school meals at age 16


A collection of essays examining various aspects of child poverty, from the need for Government to have an over-arching plan to tackle it, how a child poverty strategy needs to look both at the material conditions which bring about child poverty and the impact it has on children’s life chances, and a look at the relationship between work and poverty for families.

Baroness Philippa Stroud Government needs to understand and measure poverty
Baroness Philippa Stroud
Chief Executive, Legatum Institute
Tony Blair We need a national plan to eradicate child poverty
Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister
Stephen Timms A new child poverty target
Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP
Chair, Work and Pensions Select Committee
Emma Revie Child ‘food poverty’ is just one symptom of a wider injustice: poverty
Emma Revie
CEO, The Trussell Trust
Robert Halfon Lockdown, poverty and the disadvantage gap
Robert Halfon MP
Chair, Education Select Committee
Edward Davies Learning the lessons from previous recessions – focus on families
Edward Davies
Director of Policy, Centre for Social Justice
David Burrowes How we can work with families in poverty
David Burrowes
Executive Director of Strengthening Families Manifesto
Steve Chalke Changing the weather: Corona and community
Steve Chalke MBE
Founder and Leader, Oasis Charitable Trust
Charlotte Ramsden Tackling the impact of child poverty
Charlotte Ramsden
ADCS Vice President, 2020/21
Helen Barnard Work should free more families from poverty: here’s how we achieve it
Helen Barnard
Director, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Hannah Slaughter How should policy support family incomes in the coronavirus crisis?
Hannah Slaughter
Economist, Resolution Foundation

Each of these is an individual contribution. The Children’s Commissioner has not edited, or endorsed, any of the individual contributions. Nor has any author edited or endorsed the other contributions. Rather, we asked authors to write a contribution on one aspect they would like to see in an over-arching child poverty strategy. Taken together, the contributions have lots of overlapping themes, but also a huge breadth of individual ideas, concepts and details.

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