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Unicef Data Shows UK Ranks Worst Among World’s Richest Countries in Child Poverty Rates

The UK has seen a 20% rise in relative child income poverty rates between 2012/14 and 2019/21. In comparison, Slovenia, Poland and Latvia were the top three in the table, while Ireland was placed ninth in the overall rankings. All of those countries had managed to reduce their child poverty rates in the intervening period.

Unicef’s findings

Unicef’s report looked at high-income and upper middle-income countries in the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to assess the current state of child poverty and progress countries have made towards eliminating it in the period between 2012-14 and 2019-21.

When it came to how child income poverty rates had changed in roughly the past decade, the UK placed 39 out of 39 relatively well-off countries. The UK was placed 37 out of 39 countries in an overall league table which combined both their most recent income poverty rate (to 2021) and their success in reducing child poverty. It was ahead of only Turkey and Colombia.

Households were considered to be in poverty if their income fell below 60 per cent before housing costs. The relative child income poverty rate for the UK before housing costs was 20.8 per cent for 2019-21, Unicef said. During the period from 2012-14 and 2019-21, the UK saw a 20 per cent rise in relative child income poverty rates before housing costs.

The report said that during the period it focused on, UK expenditure on family cash benefits per child, as a proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, decreased from 18 per cent to 11 per cent. It said several changes to targeted financial support had contributed to this, including the benefit cap, limiting the benefits a household earning below a set threshold can receive, and the two-child limit for child tax credits and the child element of Universal Credit, meaning families cannot claim support for more children.

Children’s living conditions can be improved regardless of a country’s wealth, the report notes. For example, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania – not among the richest OECD and EU countries – have achieved important reductions in child poverty, minus 38 per cent in Poland and minus 31 per cent in the other countries. Meanwhile, five higher income countries – the United Kingdom (+20 per cent) and France, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland (all around +10 per cent) – saw the greatest increases in the number of children living in households experiencing financial hardship since 2014.

To eradicate child poverty, the Report Card calls on governments and stakeholders to urgently:

  • Expand social protection for children, including child and family benefits to supplement families’ household income.
  • Ensure all children have access to quality basic services, like childcare and free education, that are essential to their well-being.
  • Create employment opportunities with adequate pay and family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, to support parents and caregivers in balancing work and care responsibilities.
  • Ensure that there are measures adapted to the specific needs of minority groups and single-headed households, to facilitate access to social protection, key services, and decent work, and reduce inequalities.

Responses

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UK Committee for Unicef said “Poverty experienced anywhere and in any form poses risks to children’s health, wellbeing and development. The consequences can last a lifetime and tackling it should be a national priority. While some countries in this group have taken steps to increase support, in the UK we have seen a reduction in spending on child and family benefits and more children growing up in poverty as a result.”

“We urge the UK government to take steps to protect all children from poverty, starting by making child poverty reduction a government priority, scrapping the two-child limit policy and benefits cap, and improving services and support, especially for the youngest children through a national baby and toddler guarantee for all children in the UK” Sparkes continued.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “There are 400,000 fewer children and 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty when compared to 2010. But we understand some families are still struggling. This is why we have worked hard to halve inflation and are providing on average £3,700 per household to help with the cost of living, including increasing benefits by over 10 per cent this year.”

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

The Levelling Up Commission intends to consider ways to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and subsequent Bill from the perspective of local and regional government. Too often the Levelling Up agenda is something being done ‘to and for’ local and regional government, the Commission intends to make sure it is done ‘with and by’ them.

Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:

  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing and Homelessness
  • Education, Skills and Training
  • Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

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