Number of Britons in poverty reaches record high of 14.5m, Government data reveals

Charities have warned that coronavirus crisis could worsen situation for many families

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Data estimates that the number of people living in a relative low-income household after housing costs had risen to 14.5 million in 2018-19
Data estimates that the number of people living in a relative low-income household after housing costs had risen to 14.5 million in 2018-19   Credit: Mike Egerton /PA

The number of Britons in poverty has reached a record high of 14.5 million, Government figures have revealed, with the majority living in working families.

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimated that the number of people living in a relative low-income household after housing costs had risen to 14.5 million in 2018-19 from 14 million the year before.

It is the highest number of people living in poverty in the UK since figures were collated in 2002.

This includes an increasing number of children estimated to be living below the poverty line – which increased by 100,000, from 4.1 million to 4.2 million, in the same period.

Responding to the figures, Sarah Atkinson, the chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said: "The young people we support are trying to work their way out of poverty through education. 

"That's a challenge at the best of times but, with schools and universities closed because of coronavirus, those young people are going to find it even harder to access education and opportunities. 

"It's critical that short-term financial support targets those most in need, and that in the long term we work to ensure the gap doesn't widen between children growing up in poverty and their affluent peers."

Peter Matejic, the head of evidence at the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "Today's figures show that work is still not providing the reliable route out of poverty for everyone that it should.

"Seven in 10 children in poverty live in a working family – the highest proportion on record. This is simply not right, and we must take action to solve poverty in our country.  

"Many families living in poverty were already struggling against a tide of low wages, high costs and inadequate social security, even before the significant economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic hit. While our Government has introduced several welcome measures, it is crucial that it continues to expand its bold and compassionate approach to offer security to families in this time of turmoil."

Charities have also warned that the coronavirus crisis could worsen the situation for many families, pushing many more over the poverty line.

With more than 500,000 people said to have applied for Universal Credit in just nine days, the charity Save the Children said more families will be left with little or no money during the five-week wait while claims are processed.

Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "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."