AT least one in five children in every Welsh local authority is growing up in poverty after housing costs are taken into account, according to research published today by the End Child Poverty coalition. In some parts of the country the child poverty rate rises to more than one in three, after housing costs are taken into account (AHC) (see tables below). The coalition says the new figures show the scale of the challenge faced by government if it is to realise its ambition to build back better after the pandemic.
While many areas of Wales saw a fall in child poverty (AHC) between 2014-15 –2018-19, in some rural and coastal regions, child poverty rates continued to grow over the five years. Pembrokeshire is now the county with the highest child poverty rate in Wales (31%), once housing costs are taken into account. Of the six local authorities seeing a growth in child poverty rates, five are in rural or coastal areas. Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Blaenau Gwent have all seen rises in the proportion of children living in poverty since 2015.
The greatest number of children living in poverty continues to be in Cardiff, where nearly 20,000 children are growing up below the poverty line. The high cost of housing in the capital means families must spend more of their incomes on rent, leaving them with less money to cover other essential living costs. Many of these families find that, once their housing costs are paid, they do not have enough money to meet their children’s needs and are left with no option but to turn to crisis help like food banks, and are increasingly reliant on free school meals.
The impact of poverty on children is well documented, with children from low-income families more likely to experience worse physical and mental health; do less well in school; and have fewer opportunities in the future. The coalition is calling on the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and its impact on children’s lives. They are urging the UK Government to set out an ambitious plan to tackle child poverty encompassing not only social security spending but also the high cost of housing and childcare, and investment in children’s services.
The report is based on data published by the Department for Work and Pensions in March 2020, and on estimates of the effect of housing costs on poverty rates produced by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, based on survey evidence. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson was rebuked by the statistics watchdog for his repeated misuse of child poverty statistics. The Statistics Authority upheld a complaint from the End Child Poverty coalition judging that on three separate occasions his statements on child poverty were ‘incorrect’.
Commenting on the new data, Ellie Harwood, Wales Development Manager for Child Poverty Action Group said:
“Unlike most of the UK, Wales has succeeded in reducing child poverty over the last three years. Wales’ progress in tackling child poverty shows what can be done when there is a concerted strategy to take action on the root causes of child poverty. However, our child poverty rates remain unacceptably high, and are continuing to grow worse in some areas. In particular, the child poverty rate is increasing in some rural and coastal counties, with Pembrokeshire now the local authority with the highest child poverty rate in Wales.
“Whichever way you look at these figures, they show that child poverty exists in every corner of Wales, from the valleys to the coast, in our rural heartlands and our inner cities. With the pandemic threatening to push many more families into hardship, we need the Welsh Government to commit to a new child poverty strategy that sets out ambitious and measureable targets for eliminating child poverty altogether.”
Anna Feuchtwang, Chair of End Child Poverty which commissioned the research, said:
“The Government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ disadvantaged parts of the country. This new data reveals the true extent of the hardship experienced by families on low incomes – the overwhelming majority of which were working households before the pandemic. The children affected are on a cliff edge, and the pandemic will only sweep them further into danger.
The Prime Minister must urgently admit to the true extent of child poverty in our country rather than resorting to his own inaccurate statistics. An ambitious plan to put this shameful situation right would be transformational for millions of children. As a matter of urgency we are calling on the Chancellor not to go ahead with planned cuts to Universal Credit which would see families lose out on £1000 a year. Given today’s data, this cut is unconscionable.’
End Child Poverty is calling for an urgent Government plan to end child poverty including
- Uprating of housing assistance in line with inflation;
- Retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic, which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021(a move supported by over 63k people and counting who have signed a petition to the Government);
- End the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits;
- Invest in all children with an increase to child benefit
- Extend Free School Meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and those with No Recourse to Public Funds
Top 10 Local Authorities with the highest child poverty rates in Wales
|Local Authority||Child Poverty rate (AHC) 2018/19||% change since 2015|
|Rhondda Cynon Taff||29.7%||-0.4%|
|Isle of Anglesey||29.4%||-0.5%|
Welsh Local Authorities with increasing rates of child poverty (AHC) 2015-2019
|Local Authority||Child poverty rate (AHC) 2018/19||% change since 2015|
Constituency-level changes to AHC child poverty rates in Wales 2014/15 -2018/19
|Constituency||% of children below 60% median income AHC|
|2014/15||2018/19||%age point change|
|Carmarthen W and S Pembrokeshire||30.6%||30.2%||-0.4%|
|Carmarthen East and Dinefwr||29.7%||29.2%||-0.5%|
|Cardiff South and Penarth||32.9%||31.6%||-1.3%|
|Brecon and Radnorshire||33.5%||32%||-1.5%|
|Vale of Clwyd||29.1%||26.8%||-2.3%|
|Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney||33%||30.4%||-2.5%|
|Vale of Glamorgan||26.2%||23.5%||-2.7%|
|Alyn and Deeside||25.2%||22%||-3.2%|