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What causes child poverty?

Teenage girl

In the UK, there are 3.5 million children living in poverty1. For some children, the risk of poverty is greater as a result of their circumstances:

What increases the risk of poverty?

The statistics show that a child is at greatest risk of poverty if they live in a family where no one works, however a substantial and growing number of poor children are living in families where at least one a parent is in paid employment.  In 2011, nearly two thirds of poor children were living in families where someone was in work.  Other risk factors for ending up living in poverty include:

  • Living in a lone parent family
  • Living in a larger family with 3 or more children
  • Living in social housing
  • Living in a household where someone is disabled.

Where you live can also affect your risk of living in poverty

Children in London, the North East, North West, West Midlands and Wales have the highest risks of living in poverty.

Groups that are more at risk from poverty than others

1. Lone Parents

In lone parent households, 3 per cent of children are living in poverty, compared to 22 per cent in two parent families1. Much of this is due to high levels of worklessness and low out of work benefits: A lone parent with two children, one aged 14 and the other aged five, needs £272 to take them above the after housing costs poverty line. The amount of benefit that this family would get if the parent was out of work (excluding housing costs) is £218, which is well below the poverty line2.

Additionally, some lone parents often feel isolated and lack confidence. They may also experience poor physical and mental health and be socially excluded. More needs to be done to help lone

2. Large families

Within large families with three or more children, 36 per cent of children are living in poverty, compared to 24 per cent of children from families with two children and 25 per cent of children from one-child families1.

Large families can often struggle to meet the costs of school uniform and equipment, and are also at particular risk of going into debt. They also have higher rates of worklessness than for parents in smaller families, which is largely due to a lack of affordable childcare4.

Evidence also suggests that mothers of five or more children who do work earn significantly less per than mothers with smaller numbers of children5.

3. Families affected by disability

Over a million children living in poverty are affected by disability. Having either an adult or a child with a disability in the family increases the chances of being in poverty. Within families with a disabled child and a disabled adult, there is a 33 per cent risk of child poverty , compared to 25 per cent where no one in the family has a disability1

4. Black and minority ethnic groups

Within Black or Black British households, 44 per cent of children live in poverty. This rises to 55 per cent in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households, compared with 25 per cent in White households1.

Worklessness is one of the key drivers for higher poverty rates for some ethnic minority groups. The UK overall employment rate, about 71 per cent of working age adults, falls to 60 per cent when looking at working age adults from minority ethnic groups6.

Educational achievement is an important factor in poverty rates amongst ethnic minority groups. The achievement gap between white pupils and their Pakistani and African-Caribbean classmates has almost doubled since the late 1980s.

1 Department for Work and Pensions, 2013, Households Below Average Income 2011/2012. Figures are after housing costs.

2 Barnardo's calculation based on Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit rates from April 2012.

3 The Daycare Trust

4 Barnardo's (2007) It Doesn’t Happen Here: The reality of child poverty in the UK

5 The Daycare Trust

6 Office for National Statistics (Feb 2011) Labour Market Status by Ethnic Group