State of Child Poverty 2023

As the cost of living crisis remains ever prevalent across the UK, we have surveyed over 1200 frontline workers who collectively support over 200,000 children and young people. The findings are stark, with a significant increase in children living in destitution and or some school is becoming a luxury they are struggling to afford.

This is the fifth annual publication of our report, and once again, numbers are on the rise. As the cost of living crisis continues across the country more and more families are seen to be living in destitution, school is no longer a necessity but a luxury and access to essentials continues to be a challenge for these families.

In last year’s report, we saw that families were having to choose between heating and eating. This year, we are seeing increasing rates of families that cannot afford the essentials. High numbers cannot afford utilities, food and nutrition and are going without basic furniture, falling into rent arrears, and do not have access to IT equipment for education or employment.

The already high level of mental illness is on the rise once again, only exacerbated by these poor conditions families are forced to live in. Education is starting to be seen as a luxury, as the costs associated with getting to school and engaging in education successfully become too much. Many households are going without heating or washing due to the significant costs of doing so. This is leaving children without basic levels of hygiene and wellbeing, with many living in cold, damp homes. They cannot afford the basic standard of physical care required to make their attendance in education possible, let alone the essential resources required to travel to their education settings, or access learning online and at home.

Joseph Howes, CEO of Buttle UK, said: “Our report demonstrates the catastrophic impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, which have meant more and more children are having to go without food, and the situations these challenges are creating are preventing them from having any chance to reach their potential at school. The increase in children and young people living in destitution is stark and worrying.

“A child poverty strategy is needed to support in the longer term, but changes can be made now to pull hundreds of thousands of children out from the destructive grip of poverty. We urge the government to act now and support struggling families by lifting the two-child Universal Credit limit and introducing an Essentials Guarantee, ensuring benefits always cover the basic essentials.”

Key Findings:

Frontline workers reported that 60% live in destitution – a 15% rise on what we reported last year.

Of the families that respondents spoke for, they reported an inability to access the following basics for the following proportions:

  • 57% cannot afford enough food and nutrition
  • 58% cannot afford gas and electricity
  • 63% go without basic furniture such as beds, sofas and appliances
  • 49% are not able to afford their rent or equivalent
  • 65% go without IT equipment for education or employment

These households are marginalised by their financial constraints. The trauma caused by, or resulting in, the circumstances they are living through is increasing. We measured this by asking respondents about adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) in the home. The most severe were:

  • Mental illness is present in 70% of the households
  • Domestic violence in 64% of the households
  • Neglect in 55% of the households
  • Parental separation in 69% of the households
  • Verbal abuse in 65% of the households 

Going without basics has worsened the already significant national mental health crisis that many children and young people are enduring. The high level of mental illness is linked to poor educational outcomes and increasing numbers of children being unable to attend or access education. When describing the problem, frontline workers reported that:

  • Mental illness is not being treated sufficiently or early enough to prevent long-term impacts. Families feel abandoned, and problems are escalating.
  • Home lives are incredibly stressful for parents and children alike in light of the cost-of-living crisis. This is leading to toxic coping mechanisms including substance abuse, neglect and self-harm, and is contributing to family breakdowns, including increased emotional and physical abuse.
  • Children are very isolated by their circumstances, particularly compared to their peers; they struggle with building relationships and accessing opportunities outside their homes.
  • Many are suffering with poor self-esteem and lack confidence, at a level that                  stops them from attending school or college.

As a result of these findings, Buttle UK is calling for more, and enduring, financial support directly for these basics.

The charity argues that the Cost-of-Living Payments afforded to families on Universal Credit and other DWP benefits are not enough to plug the gap between household income and outgoings.

Buttle UK is urging the Government to act:

  • Lift the two-child Universal Credit limit. This significantly reduces household income and well-being. A quarter of a million children would be lifted out of poverty if it was scrapped. Buttle UK is one of many organisations calling for the two child limit to be lifted and supports the End Child Poverty coalition’s All Kids Count Campaign and National Education Union’s No Child Left Behind campaign.
  • Introduce an Essentials Guarantee. This is an independent process to determine an ‘essentials guarantee level’, based on the cost of essentials (such as food, utilities and vital household goods) for the adults in a household (excluding rent and council tax) that Universal Credit’s standard allowance must at least meet after any deductions.
    This proposal is backed by the likes of Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • Appoint a dedicated Cabinet Minister for Children and Young People. This role would lead an England-wide Child Poverty Strategy, following in the example of Scotland and Wales, where action is beginning to take place. This role should begin with a thorough review of the adequacy of current state support for children and young people living in poverty, in order to better understand the relationship between poverty, inequality and lifelong impacts in our society today.