EduFacts - Child Poverty


  • The facts on child poverty are shocking: there were 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2016-17, an increase of 100,000 on the previous year. 1  This means 30% of children, or nine pupils in every classroom of 30 pupils, are officially poor.
  • Most shockingly, work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty: 67% of the 4.1 million children in poverty have at least one parent in work.
  • Regional child poverty figures released by the End Child Poverty Coalition in January 2018 show that there are now constituencies where more than half of children are growing up in poverty. The figures also show that some of the most deprived areas of the UK have seen the biggest increases in child poverty - of up to 10 percentage points in some cases - since the last local child poverty figures were released in December 2015. 2
  • Research by the End Child Poverty coalition also demonstrates that the poorest families in the UK pay higher prices than better-off families for basic necessities. A family living in poverty is likely to have to pay nearly £1,700 more than a higher income family for essential household items like a cooker, energy and home insurance. 3
  • Levels of poverty are also projected to rise in the next five years, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicting that, “if planned benefit cuts go ahead and earnings grow as the OBR forecasts, inequality will start to rise”.   The IFS also predicts that “low-income households with children will fare worse than other households”. 4
  • The roll out of universal credit is likely to compound the problem for families further. Half of low paid workers are currently paid weekly but a built-in delay to universal credit requires claimants to wait at least 42 days before receiving a benefit payment.
  • Poverty has a significant impact on the educational experience and attainment of many children growing up in the UK. Moreover, there is a stronger relationship between parental social background and children’s test scores in England than in many other rich countries. 5  
  • The Government says that raising the achievement of disadvantaged pupils and reducing the attainment gap is a priority. However, rather than directing its efforts towards effectively reducing child poverty and mitigating its effects, this Government has instead frequently sought to scapegoat schools and teachers for the “underachievement” of poor pupils.
  • Teachers are acutely aware of the impact of poverty on the children they teach. One of the most obvious and distressing manifestations of this is the fact that children from disadvantaged households often come to school hungry or malnourished. This not only has a negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of those children, it also impairs learning by reducing their ability to concentrate.
  • In a YouGov poll in 2014 commissioned by the NUT, almost half of teachers (49%) reported that malnutrition or hunger was affecting the ability of pupils to concentrate. 6
  • School holiday hunger is a particular problem. While many disadvantaged children are entitled to receive free school meals during term time, hunger among children during school holidays is now commonplace, with parents and carers unable to afford to buy enough food, or food of a high enough quality, for their children during these periods.
  • The NUT conducted a survey of its primary members in March 2017 to gauge the extent of school holiday hunger. Half of respondents stated that they noticed the effects of holiday hunger on their pupils and, of these, 80% said that the number of pupils in their school affected by holiday hunger had increased over the last two years. 7
  • The extent of the impact of holiday hunger within schools is also shocking: 12% of those who responded said that they thought that half or more of the pupils in their school were affected by holiday hunger while 27% indicated that a quarter or more (but less than half) were affected by holiday hunger.
  • Poor and insecure housing impacts the most on those in poverty and impacts on children’s educational experience. According to official Government statistics, over 78,930 households were living in temporary accommodation at the end of December 2017. The number of families with dependent children placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 740 at the end of June 2010 to 2,030 at the end of December 2017. 8
  • Teachers recognise, and are committed to, the principle that education can make an enormous difference to children’s lives, but schools and teachers cannot address society-wide inequity and the effects of poverty on educational achievement alone. That is the job of Government.
  • The academic literature is very clear: differences in the social background of pupils are the primary factors causing inequality in educational outcomes.
  • According to research published by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in February 2018, schools were found to account for just 9% of pupil-level variation in Progress 8 in 2015-16, once the effect of the clustering of similar groups of pupils in schools was accounted for.
  • These findings are broadly consistent with earlier research including a 2003 study by the Department for Education and Skills which found that, when a “progress” indicator was considered, only 8-13% of the variation at the end of secondary schooling attainment was explained by the school. 9 This does not mean that schools cannot improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children but to deny the role of outside factors in entrenching educational disadvantage is simply not realistic, nor is it fair.
  • Economic background has a serious impact on students’ experience of education. For example, the Children's Commission on Poverty found that a third of children who said their family is “not well off at all” had fallen behind in class because their family could not afford the necessary books or materials. Two in five children in these families said they had missed a term-time school trip because of the cost. 10
  • Increasing levels of poverty are putting schools under greater pressure. Schools serving deprived communities are dealing with extra challenges including child mental and physical health issues, the impact of unemployment, and higher crime rates.
  • At the same time England's schools are experiencing real-term budget cuts which are set to be compounded by the introduction of the proposed new National Funding Formula for schools (see Education Funding Edufact).
  • Research by the NUT and the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) using DfE data shows that, under current Government school funding policy, the 1,000 schools with the highest number of children with free school meals are facing much higher cuts in funding per pupil than schools generally. 11
  • Budget cuts have also reduced funding available to local authorities to sustain and develop vital child and family services which relieve the burden on schools, enabling them to focus on teaching and learning. Similarly, as research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, Government cuts to local authorities are disproportionately affecting the poorest places and the poorest groups. 12
  • International comparison of different school systems shows that those which emphasise choice and competition demonstrate higher levels of segregation and that this can lead to less equity in learning opportunities and outcomes. 13  In light of this, the Government should re-think its obsession with promoting school choice and competition and focus instead on improving teaching and learning across all schools and fully funding education and children and young people’s services to meet need.

1 CPAG's response to annual poverty statistics (22 March 2018)

2 End Child Poverty Coalition, More than half of children now living in poverty in some parts of the UK (24 January 2018)

31 The Children’s Society, Four million children affected by poverty (15 March 2017)

4 Andrew Hood & Tom Waters, ‘Historically weak growth in living standards set to continue; low-income households with children to fare worst’, IFS Press Release (2 March 2017)

5 Connelly et al., Primary and secondary education and poverty review, Centre for Longitudinal Studies (August 2014), p. 23.

6 NUT, Teachers’ New Year’s Message (January 2014). For reporting of the findings see:

7 NUT survey on holiday hunger (17 April 2017)

8 House of Commons Library, ‘Households in temporary accommodation (England)’ (23 March 2018)

9 National Institute Economic Review, How much do schools matter? (4 February 2018)

10 The Children's Commission on Poverty, At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life (October 2014).

11 NUT and CPAG, NUT/CPAG figures show Government school funding proposals will hit schools with the poorest children hardest (3 March 2017)

12 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The cost of the cuts: the impact on local government and poorer communities (10 March 2015)

13 OECD, PISA 2015 Results (Volume II) Policies and Practices for Successful Schools (2016).

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