There are four and a half million children living in poverty in the UK, according to a study published today.
The Social Metrics Commission report found there are 14.2 million people living in poverty in the UK, made up of 8.4 million working-age adults, 4.5 million children and 1.4 million pension-age adults.
It also highlights that 7.7 million people (12% of the UK population) live in ‘persistent poverty’, meaning they have been living below the breadline for all or most of the last four years.
Analysis shows that of the 14.2m living in poverty, 48% (6.9 million) live in a family with a disabled person.
More positively, the study highlights that poverty has almost halved amongst pension-age adults, dropping from 21% in 2001 to 11% in 2017.
Poverty in the UK is a Serious, Growing Concern
One indicator of poverty is food banks usage, and the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, handed out 1.2m food bank parcels in 2016/2017 compared to 40,000 in 2010.
Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 emergency food supplies to people in crisis.
Shockingly, 484,026 of these went to children.
Earlier this year the Equality and Human Rights Commission, highlighted that one and a half million more children could be in poverty by 2022 because of changes to the benefit system.
The government faced criticism for scrapping child poverty targets in 2015, and today’s Social Metrics Commission report attempts to establish a meaningful measure for poverty to guide policy and evaluate whether poverty, in one of the richest countries in the world, is being effectively addressed.
Poverty is a Human Rights Issue – But Can the UK be Held Accountable?
Living in poverty can certainly violate a person’s social and economic rights, including the rights to adequate food, clothing and housing and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
These rights are part of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. The UK government has signed and ratified this treaty, so it is bound by international law to comply with its terms, but it has not incorporated these rights into domestic law, so it is very difficult for UK citizens to claim these rights. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights monitors the UK’s record on economic, social and cultural rights, but it has no powers to take further action if the UK ignores its rulings (which attract very little publicity).
Between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 emergency food supplies. 484,026 of these went to children.
This weak accountability mechanism contrasts with how civil and political rights are treated in the UK. In 1998, the UK passed the Human Rights Act, which incorporated all the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, including the right to life and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.
Cases of extreme poverty can violate civil and political rights. And where some groups experience poverty more than others, such as disabled people, the right to be free from discrimination applies.
Will Philip Alston’s Visit Make a Difference?
Edmonton food bank Credit: Mack Male Flickr
There is growing pressure for the government to address poverty, with the UN special rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Phillip Alston, coming to the UK in November on an official visit to receive submissions on poverty in the UK.
In reaction to today’s report, Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham told the Guardian. “What we now need is for government to move on from its denial of the problem, set targets for reducing and eradicating child poverty, and implement policies to support low-income families.”
Sam Royston, of The Children’s Society, said: “While we would welcome these changes to how poverty is measured being included in official statistics, concrete action is needed to tackle the shameful scale of poverty among our children, with all the damage it can do to their wellbeing, education and life chances.”