More than four million children are living in families which receive Universal Credit, latest figures suggest.
Some 4,030,796 children were living in households receiving the benefit as of August, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
This is up from 3,906,325 children in May.
Overall, the number of children living in families which get Universal Credit has risen by 250,000 in six months, between February and August this year.
Campaigners sounded the alarm ahead of Thursday’s budget, calling for immediate, targeted action to protect the poorest households from the soaring cost-of-living.
The latest DWP figures show that almost three-quarters (73%) of families on Universal Credit in August were single-parent households.
More than a quarter (28%) of children in families receiving the benefit are aged four or younger.
Overall, half of the households on Universal Credit with a payment in August included children, the DWP said.
Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children UK, called the rise “staggering” and “shameful”.
He said: “Children are facing the toughest economic climate in decades and for those in families on Universal Credit, the crisis and potential recession are the latest in over a decade of real term cuts to social security.
“Growing up in a family receiving Universal Credit in 2022 is desperate, through no fault of the child or their parents.
“Money just isn’t stretching as far as it once was, with soaring food and energy bills putting intolerable stress on parents doing their best to put meals on the table, pay for hot water, heating and light.
“We are now deeply concerned about the risk to children’s health and wellbeing this winter, and the impacts of this crisis are likely to be felt throughout a child’s life.”
The charity is calling for the Chancellor to commit to increasing benefits in line with inflation during this week’s budget and increase the child element of Universal Credit by £10 a week.
The Child Poverty Action Group said children are going hungry because family budgets “are at snapping point”.
Chief executive Alison Garnham said: “This problem has been long in the making and in the current crisis another real-terms cut is indefensible.
“The Prime Minister has said he will protect the most vulnerable – as a minimum that means uprating benefits with inflation so that children have enough food and warmth this winter – but longer term more will be needed.
“Trading children’s health for efficiency savings cannot be an option.”
Overall, the figures show that 5.8 million people were on Universal Credit in October.
This is up from 5.5 million in March 2022, but below the peak of 6.0 million in March 2021.
More than half (57%) of people receiving the benefit in October were women, and 41% of those receiving the benefit in September were in employment.
A Government spokesman said: “Universal Credit provides a strong financial safety net for millions of families every year and we are committed to enabling parents to support themselves and their families while building towards financial independence through work.
“Our extensive immediate support for families also includes our Energy Price Guarantee, saving around £700 for a typical household over winter, and our Household Support Fund, worth over £1 billion to help people with essential costs, combined with longer-term changes such as altering Universal Credit to help people keep £1,000 more of what they earn every year.”