From education to employment

1 in 5 key worker households have children living in poverty

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  • Around 1 million children with key worker parents are living below the breadline, research shows
  • In some parts of Britain more than two-fifths of kids in key worker households are living below the breadline
  • Poverty levels “likely to get worse” as ministers hold down pay
  • Key workers in the public sector facing another year of real-terms pay cuts

1 in 5 (19%) key worker households have children living in poverty, new TUC research has revealed today (Friday).

The research, which uses the government definition for key workers, shows that the number of kids growing up in poverty in key worker households has increased by 65,000 over the past two years to nearly 1 million (989,000) in 2022.

It forecasts that in 2023 that number will rise again to 1.1 million unless ministers take further action to support families.

North East hit hardest

The analysis – undertaken for the TUC by Landman Economics – highlights how in some regions of the UK more than two-fifths of children in key worker households are now living in poverty.

Key worker families in the North East (41%) have the highest rate of child poverty followed by the North West (29%) and London (29%) and the East of England (24%).

Scotland (8.3%) and Wales (8.9%) have the lowest rates.

Worse set to come

The TUC warned child poverty rates among key worker households are likely to get worse.

Ministers have announced another of year of real-terms pay cuts for key workers in the public sector.

The union body says this will have a devastating impact on frontline workers after a brutal decade of pay freezes and cuts:

  • Hospital porters’ real pay will be down by £200 this year 
  • Maternity care assistants’ real pay will be down by £600 this year 
  • Nurses’ real pay will be down by £1,100 this year
  • Paramedics’ real pay will be down by over £1,500 this year 

And ministers are calling for wages to be held down for some key workers in the private sector too.

The TUC says the additional support announced by the Treasury this year to help families with energy bills will be offset by cuts to real-terms pay and other rising living costs.

Risk of recession

The TUC says government calls for widespread pay suppression will reduce household spending and demand as the UK teeters on the brink of recession.

The union body highlighted how at the same time key workers are being told to tighten their belts, city bonuses are rocketing.

TUC analysis published in June month revealed that bonuses in the financial and insurance sector grew by 27.9% over the last year, six times faster than average wages in the same period, which grew by 4.2%.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Our amazing key workers got us through the pandemic. The very least they deserve is to be able to provide for their families.

“But the government is locking too many key worker households into poverty.

“Ministers’ heartless decision to hold down pay will cause widespread hardship and put the UK at greater risk of recession.

“After the longest wage squeeze in 200 years we urgently need to get more money in the pockets of working families.

“This will help people get through this cost of living crisis and inject much-needed demand into our economy.

She added:

“It is particularly galling that as key workers are being told to tighten their belts, city executives are enjoying bumper bonuses.

“Once again ordinary working people are being forced to carry the can for a crisis made in Downing Street.”

Support needed for key worker families

The TUC is calling on the government to guarantee decent living standards by:

  • Raising the national minimum wage immediately.
  • Giving all key workers a fair pay rise that meets the cost of living
  • Funding the public sector so that all outsourced workers are paid at least the real Living Wage and get parity with directly employed staff.
  • Boosting universal credit to 80% of the real Living Wage
  • Significantly increasing benefit payments to children and removing the two-child limit within social security.  

Sector Response

Dr Paul Gosling, president of school leaders’ union NAHT and primary headteacher in Devon, said:

“At no point in my thirty-year career of working in schools have I seen the number of families being pushed into poverty as they currently are. This national cost of living crisis is crippling so many hard-working people and the government needs to take some serious and immediate action to support people. School leaders know that the effects of poverty can hugely disadvantage children’s life chances, and they are angry and frustrated that more is not being done to support our communities.”

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said:

“Our members have described the rise in poverty in their schools’ communities over the past year as ‘shocking and stark’. It is clear that the combined pressures of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have driven more families and children into poverty. Children who are hungry are not ready to learn. Teachers and school leaders are increasingly having to tackle the impact of poverty before they can even start teaching. These children are already the victims of a decade of austerity; the government urgently needs to act to avoid these children becoming an entirely lost generation.”

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