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Children in poverty: Work and Pensions Committee launches inquiry

15 January 2021

  • New inquiry will examine cross-governmental approach to addressing growing numbers of children living in poverty
  • Committee publishes correspondence with Secretary of State on importance of properly measuring poverty

A new wide-ranging inquiry from the Work and Pensions Committee is to examine what steps the Government could take to reduce the numbers of children who grow up in poverty in the UK.

Official figures show that even before the coronavirus pandemic child poverty was a growing issue, affecting more than four million children and impacting on well-being and life prospects.

The initial focus of the Committee will be on the best way to measure child poverty and how the DWP works with other Government departments and local authorities to reduce the number of young people living in poverty.

The inquiry is then expected to examine how well the social security system is working for children, the experiences of families with no recourse to public funds, and support for working parents and separated families.

The inquiry builds on the Committee’s previous work on poverty and the experiences of children. In December the Committee held a session with the Children’s Commissioner alongside headteachers and directors of local council children’s services on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children and their development.

The Committee has also today published correspondence between Committee Chair Stephen Timms and the Secretary of State on the Department’s commitment to developing new statistics for measuring poverty. At an evidence session in November, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission Baroness Stroud warned that progress on developing a new model had slowed, saying “we are walking through a major pandemic in the dark”.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“With millions of children living in families struggling to get by, child poverty was blighting the prospects of young people even before the pandemic started to take its toll. Sadly, we know the events of the last year will only have made things worse for many families and are likely to have plunged many more children into poverty.

Decisions and policies on everything from education through to social security affect the lives of children, so our new inquiry will be wide-ranging and look across the board at all aspects of the Government’s approach to tackling child poverty. Our initial focus will be on how the DWP works with other Departments and the importance of properly measuring both the level and impact of poverty on children.

The first step to tackling any problem must be to ensure there is a clear picture of the issue. Sadly, the Government has put valuable work on measuring poverty on the back burner. Without agreed measures of poverty, there can be no sensible strategy for tackling it and any policies will be little more than a stab in the dark.

With the pandemic shining a new light on the day-to-day difficulties faced by many children, there is now a unique opportunity to build a consensus around a renewed push to tackle the scourge of child poverty. Our Committee will push the Government to ensure all young people have a decent start in life.”

Background and statistics

In February 2020, before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic began to be felt, the Office for National Statistics released statistics including information about the future prospects of children who grow up in poverty. It said that:

  • Child poverty in the UK is a growing issue and affects more than 4 million children. Growing up in poverty can have negative consequences for children's well-being and future life prospects, such as employment and earnings.
  • Young adults who suffer financial hardship as children have significantly greater than average chances of earning lower wages, being unemployed, spending time in prison (men) or becoming a lone parent (women).
  • There is a clear pathway from childhood poverty to reduced employment opportunities, with earnings estimated to be reduced by between 15% and 28%, and the probability of being in employment at age 34 years reduced by between 4% and 7%.

Between 2010 and 2016, there was a target in law for reducing child poverty against a set of measures, as well as a legal requirement for the government to produce a child poverty strategy every three years.

Since 2016, there has been a legal duty on the Government to publish data on:

  • children living in workless households in England;
  • children living in long-term workless households in England;
  • the educational attainment of children in England at the end of Key Stage 4 (GCSE level); and
  • the educational attainment of disadvantaged children in England at the same stage.

Calls for written submissions

The Committee would like to hear views on the following questions. You don’t have to answer all of the questions. You can respond on behalf of an organisation, or as an individual. The deadline for submissions is Thursday 25 February.

If you need us to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to send us your views, please contact us via email on or call 020 7219 8976/text relay 18001 020 7219 8976

Measurement and targets

  • How should child poverty be measured and defined?
  • The measures of child poverty changed in 2016. What has the impact of those changes been?
  • What were the advantages and disadvantages of having a set of targets for reducing child poverty?
  • What has been the effect of removing from law the targets in place between 2010 and 2016?
  • What is the impact of child poverty and how can it best be measured?
  • What links can be established for children between financial hardship, educational under-achievement, family breakdown and worklessness?

Joint working

  • How effectively does the Department for Work and Pensions work with other Government departments, particularly the Department for Education and the Treasury, to reduce child poverty?
  • How effectively does the Department for Work and Pensions work with local authorities and with support organisations to reduce the numbers of children living in poverty and to mitigate the impact of poverty on children?
  • What would be the merits of having a cross-government child poverty strategy? How well has this worked in the past?

Further information

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