The number of UK children living in poverty has increased to more than a quarter as a result of austerity measures introduced following the 2008 recession, Unicef has said.
The charity said it was “no accident” that child poverty rates have risen in the UK but fallen in 18 other countries including Poland, Germany and Canada – blaming low pay and benefits cuts.
A global report into the effect of the economic crisis on vulnerable children between 2008 and 2012 put the UK 25th out of 41 developed countries, after child poverty increased by 1.6 per cent to 25.6 per cent.
The report also found there was an “unprecedented increase” in severe material deprivation – which measures factors including whether families can pay the rent, heat their homes and afford reasonable diets for their children – in the UK along with Greece, Italy and Spain.
The charity called for an immediate review of the impact of economic policies on children to determine the continuing impact of the recession and ensure that imbalances are “re-addressed as a priority”.
David Bull, the executive director of Unicef UK, said: “It’s disappointing to see that 18 countries have managed to reduce levels of child poverty during that difficult economic period and the UK has seen it get worse.
“This report shows it is possible in difficult times to protect the wellbeing of our poorest children. If they can do it in Poland, Canada, Germany and Australia, why can’t we?
“It really should be a wake-up call for this country that we need to do something different.
“It is no accident – that’s the key message from the report. It’s possible to make better choices than we’ve made. We need to look at decisions about taxation, welfare, benefits, minimum wage. It’s the sum total of all those policies and decisions that is leaving us in a position where child poverty is worsening.
“Living in poverty can have serious impacts for children. It can set back a child’s ability to achieve and be successful in education and damage their entire life chances.”
The child poverty rate was measured using a relative poverty line defined at 50 per cent or 60 per cent of median annual income in 2008, which in the UK amounted to £202 per week for a single parent with two children aged under 14 and £288 per week for a couple with two children aged under 14.
Mr Bull said most of the vulnerable children have working parents who are “not being paid enough” and not receiving enough contributions from the government to escape poverty.
“What’s important is that we haven’t seen the worst of this austerity and its impact,” he said.
“This report only goes up to 2012, and everybody agrees there are a lot more austerity measures to come. If we don’t really focus our attention on making sure the most vulnerable are protected then things are going to get worse when they need to get better.”
The government has put forward a strategy to end child poverty by 2020, but a recent report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said the plans fell far short of what is needed to prevent the numbers rising.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Unicef is drawing distorted comparisons with this data.
“UK official national statistics show that, under this government, around 300,000 fewer children are in poverty or growing up in workless families.
“Our reforms are improving the lives of some of the poorest families by promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.”