Child poverty is rapidly rising (Picture: Learning Policy Institute)

The share of children living in absolute poverty in Britain has risen by its highest rate for 30 years. According to the New Economics Foundation, there is a deepening of poverty in the very places that the government’s levelling-up agenda was supposed to lift up. The three council areas of England with the largest rises in child poverty from 2015 to 2023 are Nottingham—up 15 percent, with 40 percent of children now in poverty, then Birmingham—up 14 percent with 41 percent of children living in poverty. 

And child poverty in Leicester has increased 13 percent—to a total of 41 percent.

Figures from the Children’s Commissioner for Wales this year show 28 percent of children in Wales are living in relative poverty. Absolute poverty is when a household earns below a level needed to maintain basic living standards, whereas relative poverty is when a household earns a certain percentage below the average income.

And the Scottish government estimates that about 240,000 children—or 24 percent—in Scotland are living in relative poverty.

Overall, in Britain and Northern Ireland there are 4.3 million children living in relative poverty. While shocking as these official figures are, they are almost certainly an underestimation far below the actual number. In times of crisis—with the Tory government jumping from one to the next—the ruling class’s first response is to make the poorest pay most.

It is poorer households that are impacted more by rises in inflation, as they are forced to spend a greater share of their income on basic services such as a food and energy. And this poverty has a serious impact on the experience of children at school. 

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrats MP, spoke at a parliamentary debate on free school meals. She spoke of “a child pretending to eat out of an empty lunchbox because they did not qualify for free school meals and did not want their friends to know there was no food at home”. She went on, “A child hiding in the playground because they don’t think they can get a meal. This has to stop.”

School meals are one area of many where the British state is failing to support children in poverty. State school students in England can claim free school meals only up to the end of year two. After that, they are eligible only if their parent or carer receives benefits.

An estimated 900,000 school age children who live in poverty miss out due to strict eligibility rules, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. Inequality is built into capitalism, and it is the most vulnerable people who are systematically neglected every day. Child poverty is a symptom of our broken system. To address it, we need an entirely different way of organising society.


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