How Many Children Living in Poverty Are There in the UK and Why?


  1. What is the definition of a child living in poverty in the UK?
  2. What causes the children's poverty?
  3. How many children living in poverty in the UK?
  4. How does living in poverty affect a child?
  5. What are the effects of poverty on families?
  6. What can you do to help children living in poverty?


It can be hard to believe that there are children living in poverty in the UK, but the sad reality is that this is very much the case. We’re going to share the stark figures with you and explore the impact of child poverty on families and look at how poverty affects children. If you want to get involved and help, you’ll find some fantastic organisations doing great work in this area at the end of this article.sad young girl

What is the definition of a child living in poverty in the UK?


Children living in poverty are considered those who live in a household with an income of 60 percent below the average. Action for Children reports that there is a total of 31 percent of children living in poverty in the UK. 


What causes the children's poverty?


While there is no one cause that leads to children living in poverty, there are a number of contributing factors or observations around those more likely to live in poverty: single-parent families, minority ethnic groups, and larger families.

  • Single-parent families

A whopping 49 percent of children in single-parent families live in poverty which is far higher than the 31 percent total figure for the UK. Single parents face the challenge of relying on one income, gender inequality in pay, and childcare expenses. 

  • Minority ethnic groups

It’s been highlighted that children from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to live in poverty. The disparity is large with 46 percent currently in poverty versus 26 percent coming from White British families. 

  • Larger families

Families with three or more children have a greater chance of being in poverty. Figures show that 47 percent of children living in larger families are living in poverty. 


How many children are living in poverty in the UK?


As we mentioned, there is a total of 31 percent of children living in poverty in the UK. The city with the highest percentage is London. Let’s break down the most recent figures from 2019/2020 across the different countries in the UK and selected regions in England. 

  • How many children living in poverty by country

Wales has the highest percentage of children living in poverty, followed by England, then Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same figures:

  • England – 30%
  • Wales – 31%
  • Scotland – 24%
  • Northern Ireland – 24%
  • How many children living in poverty by region

Figures for the same period across regions in England are as follows:

  • London – 38%
  • North East – 37%
  • West Midlands – 35%
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – 33%
  • North West – 31%
  • East Midlands – 27%
  • South West – 26%
  • East of England – 26%
  • South East - 24%

With 38 percent of children living in poverty in London, that paints a startling picture. With so many children and families in this situation, let’s look at the effects of poverty on children and the impact of poverty on families.


How does living in poverty affect a child?


The impact of poverty on children is wide-ranging and can often have a long-term negative impact. Children living in poverty have to fight a lot harder to succeed due to their surroundings and circumstances but this doesn’t mean that they can’t and don’t end up leading happy lives and landing great jobs. So, how can poverty affect children?

  • Fewer opportunities due to the family’s financial situation

One of the most obvious effects of child poverty is missing out on opportunities due to lack of money. This can include educational opportunities and valuable experiences. 

If a family doesn’t have money to spare, a child can miss out on a school trip, learning materials (especially with the rising use of technology in schools and for projects), and extracurricular activities. They will also miss out on experiences other families can afford like paid-for museum exhibitions, cultural trips or excursions, and other items like novels or educational apps.

Children living in poverty are also more likely to have to work whilst they’re at school which takes time and attention away from studying. When they do have time to study or do homework, they may not have a private or quiet space at home to do so due to overcrowding. 

  • More prone to mental health issues

When parents face money worries, they may be more stressed and lose their temper with each other and their children more easily. Living in a stressful environment makes kids less likely to be happy. For children in this situation, they are five times more likely to be unhappy than their wealthier counterparts. 

  • Higher risk of bullying at school

Sadly, having less money also singles out children living in poverty. One of the main reasons that children bully others is because of their differences. If a child goes to school in second-hand clothes and can’t afford the latest fashionable items this can make them a target. 

More than a quarter of kids from the poorest families report they’ve been bullied because their parents can’t afford the cost of school. It can also mean that teachers send them home if they don’t have the right uniform or learning materials etc. and this makes them stand out as well as being disadvantaged by missing class time.

  • Friends and peers

Children living in poverty often live in insecure housing. This means they are more prone to moving house and/or area, which means a new school. It’s difficult for children in this situation when they never know how long they will remain in one place to make friends and integrate. 

When children living in poverty make friends they are at a disadvantage because they often can’t afford to keep up with their friends. This can be getting involved with activities (e.g. going to the cinema) or having the “right” clothes to wear to be in a social group. 

  • Joining a gang

Children living in poverty could choose to join a gang out of necessity (for protection or to make money) or longing to fit in. Criminals also take advantage of their poor situation and coerce them into their gang or to perform acts they otherwise wouldn’t do. 

  • Physical health implications

Another negative effect of poverty on children can be on their physical health. Inadequate housing (e.g. mould, heating) can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems and kids living in overcrowded houses contract meningitis more. 

There are also long-term implications when it comes to poverty and children in later years. Kids living in the most deprived areas have a lower life expectancy and experience fewer years of good health.


What are the effects of poverty on families?


Analysing the effects of poverty on families is important because it has a knock-on impact on children. From how parents interact with each other to their relationship with their kids, and how parents handle their situation all play a role in a child’s growth and development

Most adults have probably felt stressed about money or a financial situation at some stage in their lives, but parents of children living in poverty face this struggle daily. 

As parents, you all want to give your children the best that life can offer. When this isn’t possible due to financial issues, it can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. Economic pressures can lead to strained relationships between parents and their kids. Growing up in a household with fighting and tension can impact a child’s academic performance and the way they interact with the outside world.

Parents of children living in poverty are also likely to take on extra work in order to pay the bills and this takes away time they can spend with their family. 


What can you do to help children living in poverty?


The Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation for many families and children in the UK. It led to job losses, and the closure of schools made it even tougher to deal with childcare requirements. Plus, there is a digital divide in schools and children living in poverty often don’t have access to computers or the internet to keep up with online classes and schoolwork. 

If you are wondering how you can help these children and families, there are plenty of great organisations across the UK working tirelessly to make their lives easier and better. 

  • The Children’s Society

The Children’s Society is working to end child poverty in the UK and looks after young people in tough times. Here are some examples of how a monthly donation can help:

  • £5 - pays for a hot meal, shower and living essentials for a runaway
  • £10 - pays for a frontline worker’s phone for children in danger to call them
  • £20 - pays for mediation sessions for a family to help resolve conflict at home
  • Save The Children

Save The Children helps millions of children around the world each year. It also supports children in the UK and you can choose to donate money to the charity so they can keep their great work going including:

  • Working to narrow the gap between children living in poverty and their classmates in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland
  • Delivering early learning packs, household essentials, and supermarket vouchers
  • Working with families and schools by uniting them to ensure the poorest kids get help

You can also volunteer at Save The Children, fundraise for them, and/or campaign with them. 

Children living in poverty is a sad reality in the UK as it is in many countries around the world. The impact of poverty on children can be an issue that follows them into adulthood. 

However, there are ways we can all help to improve the situation for families in need as we’ve seen. It doesn’t have to be donating money as much of the campaigning work has led to many of the necessary changes our society has needed too, thanks to charitable organisations and many individuals and parents across the UK.