Child poverty in Midlothian at highest level in six years before pandemic

Child poverty in Midlothian rose to the highest level in six years before the coronavirus pandemic hit, figures reveal.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 1:00 pm
Stock photo by John Devlin

With child poverty hitting "devastatingly high" levels across the UK, charities are urging the Government to take action to prevent more families from falling into hardship when the crisis ends.

Department for Work and Pensions data shows in Midlothian, 2,818 children aged under 16 were living in families with low incomes in 2019-20 – an estimated 15.7 per cent of all youngsters in the area. That was up slightly from 15.5 per cent the year before, and the largest proportion since comparable records began in 2014-15.

A family is defined as in low income if it earns less than 60 per cent of the national median household income before housing costs are considered.

Of the children in poverty in Midlothian last year, 788 (28 per cent) were below school age. The majority of children (70 per cent) were in working households, while 46 per cent were in lone-parent families.

They were among 171,800 under-16s in poverty across Scotland as a whole last year. Across the UK, a record 3.2 million children were living in relative poverty in 2019-20 – with the figure rising to 4.3m after housing costs were taken into account.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at charity Action for Children, said: "The Government is in denial over child poverty. Experts have warned that child poverty will rise even further after the pandemic, with working families facing a double threat this coming winter to their living standards as unemployment peaks and Universal Credit is cut. Three-quarters of children in poverty live in working families."

Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said average household incomes saw their strongest annual growth for nearly 20 years in 2019-20, meaning families went into the pandemic on a "firm financial footing".

"We have since increased our support with an unprecedented package of measures targeting those with the lowest incomes to help families through a difficult year," she added.

"Our relentless focus as we build back better is on getting Britain back on its feet through our multi-billion-pound Plan For Jobs."

The Child Poverty Action Group, which is also calling for a boost to benefit payments, said the "dismal" figures show leaders need to take urgent action.

Chief executive Alison Garnham said: "Increasing child benefit by £10 per week would lift 450,000 children from poverty.

"One year from now we should not have to look at data showing even more children have fallen into poverty because of government inaction.

"We badly need a cross-government strategy to end child poverty and increasing child benefit should be the first action point."