Are 400,000 more children in absolute poverty since 2010?

8 December 2017
What was claimed

400,000 more children are in absolute poverty under the Conservatives.

Our verdict

This is wrong. The exact change in child poverty under the Conservatives depends on the year you compare from, but none of the absolute measures shows this. Relative child poverty was estimated to have risen by 400,000 between 2010/11 and 2015/16—both including and excluding housing costs.

“400,000 more children are in absolute poverty in this country under the Tories.”

Owen Smith MP, 7 December 2017

“Oh come on, I’m going to call you out on those figures”

Bernard Jenkin MP, 7 December 2017

It’s not correct that absolute child poverty has risen by this much in the UK since the Conservatives entered government in 2010. The exact trend in child poverty under the Conservatives depends on the year you start counting from.

There’s been little change in the numbers of children in absolute child poverty whether you compare the latest figures for 2015/16 to 2009/10 or to 2010/11.

The change in relative child poverty is much more different depending on the years being compared. Since 2009/10 there’s little change, while since 2010/11, there’s a rise of roughly 400,000 (both before and after housing costs).

We’ve asked Mr Smith what he was referring to.

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Little overall change in child poverty comparing now to 2010

The Conservatives entered government in coalition in May 2010, so it’s not always clear which time period we should start counting from.

There’s been little change in child poverty levels and rates comparing 2015/16—the latest year of data—to 2009/10, according to official data from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Those show an estimated 3.8 million children in absolute poverty since 2009/10, taking housing costs into account. That compares to 3.7 million in 2015/16.

On relative poverty, the number was estimated at 3.9 million in 2009/10 and 4 million in 2015/16.

There’s also little change in absolute poverty if you compare to 2010/11. But the change in relative poverty is roughly 400,000 since then.

But the trend hasn’t been a straight line

Those comparisons do mask one thing: the trend between those years wasn’t consistent.

Relative child poverty, for example, showed falls up until 2012/13, and rises since then (before and after housing costs). That rise (after housing costs) was recently calculated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) as the equivalent of about 400,000 children as well.

A press release this week from the JRF said: “Almost 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than in 2012/13.”

The official published data on poverty isn’t as detailed as the researchers at JRF have access to.

Child poverty is forecast to rise up to 2022

The Institute for Fiscal Studies produces estimates for what might happen to child poverty levels and rates over the next few years, assuming current economic forecasts prove correct and that the government sticks with its current benefits policy.

Again, because the latest data available is for 2015/16, these estimates actually start in the past, and look forward as far as 2021/22.

They suggest absolute child poverty, taking housing costs into account, may increase by around 400,000 children over the period, from about 27% of children to 31%. It also suggests relative child poverty increasing from 30% to 37%.

The IFS puts these changes down mainly to the effect of tax and benefit reforms introduced by the government.

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