Rishi Sunak says parents must get into work to end child poverty
A further 300,000 Britons are predicted to fall into 'absolute poverty' in 2024
About 4.2 million children are currently living in poverty in the UK
Rishi Sunak has been slammed by campaigners for saying the best way to tackle child poverty is to get parents into employment, when 71% of children living in poverty are in families where at least one parent is in work.
The prime minister told BBC Radio Tees: “The most important thing we can do to ensure children don’t grow up in poverty is to ensure that their parents are in work.”
And when asked if child poverty levels were an indictment on 13 years of Conservative rule, he said: “There are over a million fewer people living in poverty since 2010, and hundreds of thousands fewer children living in poverty since 2010."
Campaign groups and children's charities, however, have rubbished claims that the country is better off than a decade ago.
A report published by the Resolution Foundation last week revealed that a further 300,000 people are projected to fall into absolute poverty next year.
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Data collected by the Child Poverty Action Group shows that 4.2 million children are currently living in poverty in the UK, and that 71% of those affected live in a household where at least one person works.
The PM was asked on Thursday morning to comment on the fact that almost half of all children in Middlesbrough are growing up in poverty.
He said that since 2010 “several hundred thousand” fewer children were being raised in workless households and that families on universal credit are being helped with the cost of living with £900 of direct support.
He added that: "Inequality as we measure it is also lower, so I just respectfully disagree. The job is never done.”
Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns Imran Hussain told Yahoo News UK that the PM was referring to absolute child poverty, which measures how many children are in poverty using the poverty line in 2010.
He said: "So this figure should fall as the economy grows richer. In 2010-11, there were 3.6 million children in poverty. The latest figure is 4.2 million.
"You can’t ‘level up’ the country if you’re sweeping under the carpet the big rises in child poverty clearly shown by the official figures. The longer we’re in denial about the scale of the problem, the harder it will be to fix it.
"Most children in poverty are living in working families."
End Fuel Poverty Coalition coordinator Simon Francis told Yahoo News that, as energy bills remain at record highs, the group is "deeply concerned that the risks of fuel poverty are even greater this winter than last".
"The prime minister's complacency on this issue is staggering," he added.
Data from the Warm This Winter campaign shows around a quarter of young families spent last winter living in cold damp homes.
Helen Barnard, Director of Policy, Research, and Impact at the Trussell Trust, told Yahoo News: "people have been experiencing deepening levels of hardship for several years now due to ongoing low levels of income and a social security system that isn’t fit for purpose..
"Paid work is also not providing the reliable route out of hardship which we might expect. One in five people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are in working households, but not earning enough to afford the essentials.”
Watch: Headteacher says child poverty is the worst she's seen it in 25 years
Pointing to Citizens Advice research showing that the problem is especially acute among children who live in homes in the private rented sector, he said: "Rather than support these young families, Rishi Sunak has pulled the rug from underneath them by halting government plans to improve energy efficiency in rented homes."
How is poverty defined in the UK?
The Trust for London poverty action charity defines poverty as when a person does not have enough money or resources to meet basic needs, like not being able to buy food, or heat their home.
According to the government definition, households are considered to be below the UK poverty line if their income is below 60% of the median household income after housing costs for that year.
Relative low income refers to people living in households with income below 60% of the median in a specific year, and absolute low income refers to people living in households with income below 60% of median income in 2010/11.
Hussain told Yahoo News UK: "Under [Sunak's] measure, child poverty fell 300,000 between 2010-11 and 2021-22. This is a historically weak fall – for example between 2000-1 and 2009-2010, absolute child poverty fell from 4.8 million to 3.7 million.
"There are more children living in poverty in the UK now than there were in 2010 on the headline measure of relative poverty."