Published: 14:56, 14 October 2020
| Updated: 15:05, 14 October 2020
In parts of Kent one in three children entered life in lockdown and six months out of school in poverty.
Out of the county's 12 local authority areas half registered more than 30% of under 16s from low income families, according to research by the Loughborough University.
The government defines that category as people earning less than 60% of the median wage, which works out as £13,936 a year for one child and one adult up to £22,464 for a family of two adults and two children.
But its latest figures do not take into account things like rent and bills, which vary greatly across the UK and push many more families in Kent below the poverty line.
Using government data on what those costs would be in each area the university has revised the data.
The findings reveal a stark postcode lottery which means that if you were born in affluent Tunbridge Wells in 2019 you are almost half as likely to be growing up in poverty than if you were born in Thanet.
In all but three parts of Kent, according to the data published by the End Child Poverty Coalition, the level increased from 2014/15 to 2018/19, with Thanet seeing the biggest rise of 2.1%.
In Sevenoaks the level dropped from 24.9% to 23.3%.
In Medway, the county's largest area, in March 2019 18,153 children were living in poverty, 31.4% of all under 16s and 1,200 more than four years previously.
And the government's use of data that doesn't take housing costs into account is resulting in a false picture, according to End Child Poverty, with the organisation also warning the extended period of out education will likely compound the problem.
Although the child poverty rates in Kent have been relatively stable as a whole, the report states "the combination of low income and relatively high housing costs are creating levels of child poverty that are as high as the worst hit parts of the country."
A separate report from charity Buttle UK and based on surveys carried out at the end of lockdown shows large numbers of children on low incomes had no schooling while at home and that barriers for them included increased levels of parental mental health problems and insufficient digital access.
This resulted is a widening education gap with many vulnerable children at risk of being left behind.
While research by thinktank Food Foundation, released as part of footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child food poverty, estimates nationally as many as 900,000 more children have sought free school meals since the beginning of the pandemic, on top of the 1.4 million who were already claiming.
Buttle UK chief Joseph Howes said “These new figures allow us to understand the true picture and unacceptably high levels of child poverty. With the government putting in new measures to control coronavirus, we need to brace ourselves for further bad news and what could be a massive increase in child poverty and ultimately a lost generation.
“Not all families were the same going into this crisis and they will certainly not be the same coming out. As we attempt a recovery from the crisis, there are going to be some very big challenges facing the most vulnerable sectors in society. Now is the time for the Government to take bold action and work with coalition members to ensure child centric strategies are at the heart of plans for the recovery”.
Anna Feuchtwang, head of End Child Poverty which commissioned the research, said: “The government can be in no doubt about the challenge it faces if it is serious about ‘levelling up’ disadvantaged parts of the country. This new data reveals the true extent of the hardship experienced by families on low incomes – the overwhelming majority of which were working households before the pandemic. The children affected are on a cliff edge, and the pandemic will only sweep them further into danger.
“As a matter of urgency, we are calling on the Chancellor not to go ahead with planned cuts to Universal Credit which would see families lose out on £1,000 a year. Given today’s data, this cut is unconscionable.’
End Child Poverty is calling for an urgent government plan including increasing housing assistance in line with inflation; retaining the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic, which the Government has indicated will end in April 2021; ending the benefit cap and the two-child limit on benefits; increasing child benefit; and extending free school meals to all families in receipt of Universal Credit and those unable to access such funds but still living in poverty.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "There are 100,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 2009/10 and making sure every child gets the best start in life is central to our efforts to level up opportunity across the country.
“We have already taken significant steps to do this by raising the living wage, ending the benefit freeze and injecting more than £9.3 billion into the welfare system to help those in most need.”