DWP stats show the impact of universal credit on child poverty

Government ministers talking about child poverty have been a bit like buses this week – nothing for years then two come along at once. The Chancellor was first. When presented with an analysis showing that his decision to not increase benefits in line of inflation would lead to 500,000 children becoming poor, the Chancellor stated that he was happy with the choices he made. Next, the Prime Minister was confronted with the fact that child poverty doesn’t feature anywhere in his levelling up paper. The omission was an accident, was the PM’s response.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether it was the PM or the Chancellor who said the quiet part out loud. The truth is that child poverty has increased from 3.6 million to 3.9 million since 2010.  This government hasn’t even mentioned child poverty.

DWP statistics today revealed something small but important for families who struggle day in and day out. Between April 2020-2021, when in response to the pandemic the government increased benefits by £20 per week, child poverty fell by 400,000.  This happened due to the one good feature of child poverty – it’s not a fact of life, it’s policy responsive. These stats demonstrate that our politicians have the power and responsibility to protect children living in poverty.

Problem is, child poverty can rise and fall because of policy responsiveness.  And the chancellor and prime minister decided – or was it an accident, who knows – to cut universal credit  by £20 per week, which means the children that they had pulled above the poverty line will almost certainly now be sinking back under it. Experts predict that next year, child poverty rates may rise.


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Of course, the £20 per week is only part of the problem – or solution, depending which way you look at it. Around 4 million children in the UK are living in poverty due to the benefit cap, two child limit, and a lack of investment for childcare and education. But yes, directly cutting the benefits of the country’s poorest families doesn’t help either. And in last week’s spring statement the chancellor did it again – imposing a real-terms benefit cut on families now facing 8% inflation.

If we know that with the right policies we can reduce and end child poverty, but we decide not to do those things – or even decide to reverse the things that make the crucial difference – can we really call it an accident? Can the fact that over 4 million children live in poverty be considered an accident? It might be an accident after all.