One in five key worker households in the UK has children living in poverty, according to new research.
A Trade Union Congress (TUC) study indicates that the number of children growing up in poverty in key worker households has increased by 65,000 in the last two years, to nearly one million.
The analysis was undertaken by Landman Economics for the TUC, and it suggests that in some regions more than two-fifths of children in key worker homes are living in poverty.
The North East have the highest rate of key worker child poverty (41%), followed by the North West and London (29%) and the East of England (24%).
Scotland (8.3%) and Wales (8.9%) have the lowest rates, the TUC said.
The union warned that another year of below-inflation pay rises in the public sector will be "devastating" for frontline staff after a "brutal decade" of pay freezes and cuts.
It said that the research suggests that real pay for nurses will be down by £1,100 this year and more than £1,500 for paramedics.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Our amazing key workers got us through the pandemic. The very least they deserve is to be able to provide for their families, but the government is locking too many key worker households into poverty.
"Ministers' heartless decision to hold down pay will cause widespread hardship and put the UK at greater risk of recession."
'Ministers have turned a deaf ear'
Sara Ogilvie, who is the policy director at Child Poverty Action Group, described the findings as an "outrage", adding that "children are growing up in poverty as a direct result of cruel policy decisions".
According to the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, key workers are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and filling their cars.
Paul Cullen said that "ministers have turned a deaf ear to their plight".
The school leaders' union, NAHT, said it has never seen this many families "being pushed into poverty", adding that the government "needs to take serious and immediate action to support people".
President of the union, Dr Paul Gosling, said: "School leaders know that the effects of poverty can hugely disadvantage children's life chances, and they are angry and frustrated that more is not being done to support our communities."
Paul Whiteman, NAHT's general secretary, added: "Children who are hungry are not ready to learn.
"Teachers and school leaders are increasingly having to tackle the impact of poverty before they can even start teaching.
"These children are already the victims of a decade of austerity; the government urgently needs to act to avoid these children becoming an entirely lost generation."
Government 'recognise' people are struggling
A government spokesperson said: "We recognise people are struggling with rising prices which is why we are protecting millions of the most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments, starting with the £326 cost of living payment, which has already been issued to more than seven million low income households.
"We're also making work pay.
"We're saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, have boosted the National Living Wage to £9.50, the largest ever increase since its introduction in 2016, and we're allowing people on Universal Credit to keep on average, £1,000 more of what they earn, while all households will receive £400 energy payments."