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Archbishop of York shocked by record child-poverty rates

26 March 2024


Children play football in a primary-school playground in Yorkshire

Children play football in a primary-school playground in Yorkshire

THE surge in child-poverty rates — to a record high of 4.3 million children in the past financial year — is “shocking”, the Archbishop of York has said.

Archbishop Cottrell was commenting on annual figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), published in the report Households Below Average Income last Thursday.

Children living in households with less than 60 per cent of median income (currently estimated to be about £32,500 per year, or £621 per week) are considered to be in poverty. The DWP reports that 69 per cent of children in poverty are in working families; 46 per cent are in families with three or more children.

Child-poverty rates are highest among Black, African, Caribbean, and Black British families (51 per cent), and children in Asian and British Asian families (47 per cent). Forty-four per cent of children in poverty are in one-parent families; 34 per cent are in a household in which one family member has a disability.

Of the 4.3 million children in poverty in the past financial year, 2.9 million are identified as being in deep poverty, defined as a household income of below 50 per cent of median income, calculated after housing costs.

Archbishop Cottrell posted on X/Twitter: “These are shocking figures. Ending child poverty is a moral imperative and we must work together to make it a political imperative. Join me in working and praying for change.”

The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Mark Russell, described the figures as “utterly appalling. . . It’s shameful that a rich nation like ours can have millions of children going hungry, living in cold homes where even the basics are seen as a luxury.

“Children deserve every opportunity to have fulfilling lives, but these figures represent 4.3 million individual children whose chances are being hampered. Our own research shows that one in five children ‘always’ or ‘often’ worry about money, a burden no child deserves.

“We need the Government to step up, set clear targets to reduce child poverty, and invest in social security to meet them so that young people have the opportunity to thrive.”

The two-child limit on Universal Credit and the benefit cap — issues that bishops have consistently raised in the House of Lords (News, 1 March) — are drivers of poverty, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says.

Its chief executive, Alison Garnham, who is also vice-chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition, said: “In a General Election year, nothing should be more important to our political leaders than making things better for the country’s poorest kids.

“We know that change is possible, but we need to see a commitment from all parties to scrap the two-child limit and increase child benefits. Anything less would be a betrayal of Britain’s children.”

Head teachers have described to CPAG the effect on children’s well-being. “Pupils are coming to school hungry,” Tom Prestwich, a primary-school teacher in Lambeth, said. Pupils who were overtired because of difficult home conditions, and cold because of inadequate clothing, were at a disadvantage right from the start of their day.

“We do as much as we can to counteract this,” including holding breakfast clubs, supplying second-hand uniforms, and supporting parents battling for improved housing, he said. “But . . . the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged families is widening. This is happening at a time when school budgets are ever more stretched and our capacity to help and support families is reduced as a result.”

In a post on X/Twitter last Thursday, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, said that, during questions in the House of Lords the previous week, “I was assured that the rate of children living in absolute poverty had fallen, but data published by the Government today shows 100,000 more children are living in absolute poverty than last year.

“In the sixth largest global economy, this should not be. My prayers are with all those for whom the Easter holidays will be a time of anxiety and dread because the cost of three meals a day, let alone fun days out, feels impossible to meet.”

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