UK ranks worst among some of world’s richest countries on child poverty – Unicef

Child poverty levels in the UK have risen by a fifth in recent years, according to Unicef, ranking worst among some of the world’s richest countries.

When it came to how child income poverty rates had changed in roughly the past decade, the UK placed 39 out of 39 relatively well-off countries.

Unicef’s report looked at high-income and upper middle-income countries in the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to assess the current state of child poverty and progress countries have made towards eliminating it in the period between 2012-14 and 2019-21.

The UK was placed 37 out of 39 countries in an overall league table which combined both their most recent income poverty rate (to 2021) and their success in reducing child poverty. It was ahead of only Turkey and Colombia.

In comparison, Slovenia, Poland and Latvia were the top three in the table, while Ireland was placed ninth in the overall rankings.

All of those countries had managed to reduce their child poverty rates in the intervening period.

Households were considered to be in poverty if their income fell below 60% before housing costs.

The relative child income poverty rate for the UK before housing costs was 20.8% for 2019-21, Unicef said.

During the period from 2012-14 and 2019-21, the UK saw a 20% rise in relative child income poverty rates before housing costs, the humanitarian organisation added.

Jon Sparkes (pictured), chief executive of the United Kingdom Committee for Unicef, said: “Poverty experienced anywhere and in any form poses risks to children’s health, wellbeing and development. The consequences can last a lifetime and tackling it should be a national priority.

“While some countries in this group have taken steps to increase support, in the UK we have seen a reduction in spending on child and family benefits and more children growing up in poverty as a result.”

The report said that during the period it focused on, UK expenditure on family cash benefits per child, as a proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, decreased from 18% to 11%.

It said several changes to targeted financial support had contributed to this, including the benefit cap, limiting the benefits a household earning below a set threshold can receive, and the two-child limit for child tax credits and the child element of Universal Credit, meaning families cannot claim support for more children.

Mr Sparkes said: “We urge the UK Government to take steps to protect all children from poverty, starting by making child poverty reduction a Government priority, scrapping the two-child limit policy and benefits cap, and improving services and support, especially for the youngest children through a national baby and toddler guarantee for all children in the UK.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “There are 400,000 fewer children and 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty when compared to 2010.

“But we understand some families are still struggling. This is why we have worked hard to halve inflation and are providing on average £3,700 per household to help with the cost of living, including increasing benefits by over 10% this year.”

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