It’s not just school dinners. Tory austerity policy will plunge another 1.5m children into poverty.

Theresa May and young boy
Fréa Lockley

On 14 March, a new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) examining the “cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms” found that a further 1.5 million children could be in poverty by 2022. This report emerged a day after the Conservatives won a vote that could deprive up to 1 million children of free school meals. But the EHRC also suggests that the government is failing to provide basic standards of living as set out by the United Nations (UN).


The EHRC is classed by the UN as a National Human Rights Institution. Its report [pdf, p5] found that:

overall, changes to taxes, benefits, tax credits and UC [Universal Credit] announced since 2010 are regressive, however measured – that is, the largest impacts are felt by those with lower incomes… with much smaller losses for those higher up the income distribution.

The study also found that changes have a “disproportionately negative impact” on certain groups. These include “disabled people, certain ethnic minorities, and women”. But the impact is biggest on children. As The Canary previously reported, 4 million children already live in poverty in the UK. The EHRC predicts that by 2022, “largely driven by changes to the benefit system”, Conservative government policy means [pdf, p6]:

Around one and a half million more children are forecast to be living in households below the relative poverty line as a result of the reforms…. The changes are also likely to lead to significant increases in the number of children (in particular) below a minimum acceptable standard of living.

“Negative impacts” 

The EHRC predicts that lone parents and disabled people will be hit hardest hit. The “negative impacts” of changes to tax and benefits will mean that [pdf, p5]:

  • Households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child stand to lose over 13% of their average net income.
  • Lone parents will lose about 25% of their net income.
  • Disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child will lose about three out of every 10 pounds. On average, this amounts to £10,000 per year.

The child poverty rate will increase “from 37% to over 62%” for lone families. But the losses won’t end there:

  • Changes will reduce the income of Bangladeshi households by around £4,400 per year. Meanwhile, ‘white’ households or “households with adults of differing ethnicity” will only lose between £500 and £600 on average.
  • Overall, women will lose more than men. Women lose about £400 per year on average, and men only £30.

“Fairer Britain”

The EHRC states [pdf, p23] that the “UK Government’s response to our report has been disappointing”. This follows chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring statement, which made it clear the government won’t be rowing back on austerity.

But the report also says [pdf, p22] that the way the government has pushed these reforms on the poorest sections of society was “not inevitable”. It suggests that austerity measures have been a clear political choice. And the EHRC has questioned [pdf, p22] this Conservative government’s commitment to basic UN rights of “social security”:

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has observed that benefits must be ‘adequate in amount and duration’ to ensure an adequate standard of living.

The UN states that any financial loss “should be temporary, necessary and proportionate”. But according [pdf, p22] to the EHRC:

The UK Government’s published impact assessments alone do not indicate that these obligations have been taken into account; nor do they indicate that the Government paid due regard to… the impact of reforms on vulnerable groups.

Looking to the future, David Isaac, EHRC chair, said:

It’s disappointing to discover that the reforms we have examined negatively affect the most disadvantaged in our society. It’s even more shocking that children – the future generation – will be the hardest hit and that so many will be condemned to start life in poverty. We cannot let this continue if we want a fairer Britain.

Featured images via Estonian Presidency/Flickr and Pixabay

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