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‘A Relentless Assault’: the Staggering Rise in Child Poverty in the UK

Gordon Brown responds to a shocking UNICEF report that UK child poverty has worsened drastically more than 38 other OECD nations

Cover of UNICEF’s Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth Innocenti Report Card 18

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Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has intervened to emphasise the rapid growth in child poverty in the last decade, saying: “The poverty we are seeing around us is demoralising, demeaning and dehumanising and must be urgently addressed.”

On X (formerly Twitter), Brown said that there had been a “relentless assault” on the UK’s children, adding that “austerity’s children are now shorter at age five than our European counterparts, with dental decay the most common reason for hospital admissions”.

Brown’s comments follow a huge increase in the UK’s child poverty levels, laid bare in a recent UNICEF report, ‘Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth’, based on data collated from 39 EU and OECD countries. 

The report ranked  39 relatively high-income countries in the EU and OECD, based on the latest available rates of child income poverty and the countries’ success, or lack of, in reducing child poverty.

The top-ranked countries – those with the lowest rates of child income poverty combined with the greatest success in reducing child poverty – were Slovenia, Poland and Latvia.

Shockingly, the report found that, between 2014 and 2021, by this measure, child poverty in the UK had increased by more than in any of the other 38 nations.

Despite what the report described as “a golden opportunity” to reduce child poverty rates during a relatively prosperous period between 2012 and 2019, some governments failed to deliver improvements for their populations.

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During the period, Poland successfully reduced child poverty rates by 38%. In stark contrast, however, the UK saw an alarming increase in child income poverty of 20%.

The scale of the problem can be described as nothing less than catastrophic for a generation of young people who could and should have had a better start in life.

The consequences of short-sighted government policies are likely to be felt for decades to come, proving costly in terms of health interventions, productivity loss, and the wellbeing of our society.

Big cuts to school funding between 2010 and 2020, the closure of more than 1,300 Sure Start centres, and the two-child cap on child benefits demonstrates the Government’s lack of policy ambition when it comes to investing in our young people.

If we are to get back on a path of improving public health, nurturing our young people to fulfil their potential, and understanding the value of investing for the future, it is essential that this becomes an election issue and priority for any incoming government.

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