Shocking new figures show the number of children living in poverty in the UK has risen dramatically in the past year – and is set to get much worse as the coronavirus crisis deepens.
In just 12 months the number rose by a huge 100,000 to 4.2 million.
The depressing picture comes just weeks after the Daily Mirror launched its Give Me Five campaign – calling on Boris Johnson to hike child benefit by £5 a week to end the scourge of child poverty.
Even before the coronavirus crisis, experts warned 5.2 million children could be living below the breadline within two years.
Charities warn the pandemic will make the situation even more miserable for families.
After the figures were published by the Department for Work and Pensions, Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said the pandemic has made an already-critical situation even worse.
He said workers have been feeding desperate families from their own cupboards as the economic effect of Covid-19 causes further heartbreak.
He said: “These grim figures show millions of families with children are already struggling to keep their heads above water even before they – and millions of others living comfortably – find themselves hit hard by the economic wave of this once-in-a-generation health crisis.
“In the past week some families have already got so desperate, our frontline staff are feeding them from their own cupboards.
“And with so many families close to breaking point, we’ve had to launch an appeal fund to help those struggling to pay for basic essentials like food, nappies and utility bills.”
He said that while he welcomed government support announced last week, the Prime Minister needs to go further.
“We urgently need to put a protective shield around children in low income families,” he said.
“That means improving the child element of Universal Credit and Tax Credits, and ensuring these changes reach those children most at risk of poverty by suspending the benefit cap and the two-child limit for this support.
“Only then will we have a chance of giving vulnerable children a safe and happy childhood.”
Becca Lyon, Head of Child Poverty at Save the Children, warned even more children will “fall through the net” because of the coronavirus outbreak.
She warned: “Even before coronavirus, our country’s safety net was failing too many children.
“Now there’s a danger that even more children will fall through the net. The government has already done a great deal to help families affected by the Coronavirus crisis, but there is still more to be done.
“Families are already struggling and the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments will push them to the brink.
“It’s not right that families will worry about falling into debt during this difficult time.
“The government can help by giving them grants rather than loans, so that parents aren’t left without the money they need to heat their homes, and feed themselves and their children. If we don’t act now, we risk even more families being locked in poverty.”
Therese Coffey, Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “The number of children and pensioners in households below average income has fallen by 200,000 compared to 2010, but there is more we must do to address this imbalance.
“This government is wholly committed to supporting the lowest paid families and has already taken significant steps including raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze and increasing work incentives.
“All my efforts are currently focused on providing support to those affected by Covid-19, but we will not lose sight of our commitment to address and tackle the root causes to unleash potential.”