More than half of black children in the UK are now growing up in poverty, new analysis of official data has revealed.
Black children are also now more than twice as likely to grow up in poverty as white children, according to Labor Party research, which was based on government figures for households with “relatively low income” – defined as less than 60% of the median, the standard definition of poverty.
And over the past decade, the total number of black children in poor households has more than doubled – although part of the increase is due to the increase in the overall cohort size. The proportion of black children living in poverty increased from 42% in 2010-11 to 53% in 2019-20, the most recent year for which data is available.
The figures were shared with the Guardian by Labor, which described them as evidence of “Conservative incompetence and denial of the existence of structural racism”.
Labor leader Keir Starmer has already pledged the party to pass a new racial equality law, if elected, to tackle structural racism. Further details on what this would entail are expected to be clarified in 2022.
The party produced its figures by crossing data from the Ministry of Work and Pensions reports on households below average income with population statistics.
In 2019-2020, 4.3 million children (defined as those under the age of 16, or aged 16 to 19 and in full-time schooling) lived in poor households. They made up 31% of the UK’s 14 million children.
But there was great variation between ethnic groups. The labor research covered nine categories and indicated that Bangladeshi children are the poorest, with 61% of them living in poor households.
The figures for the other groups were: Pakistani children (55%); Black African or West Indian or Black British (53%); other ethnic origin (51%); other Asians (50%); mixed ethnic origin (32%); Indian (27%); white (26%); and Chinese (12%).
There are 2.9 million white children living in poverty, making it by far the largest ethnic cohort, comprising 68% of all children living in poverty. Black children are the second largest group: with over 400,000 people living in poverty, they represent 10% of all poor children.
Labor figures show that among certain ethnic groups children are just as likely to live in poverty today as they were a decade ago. In 2010-11, 61% of Bangladeshi children lived in poor households – exactly the same number as at the end of the decade.
For Indian children, the odds of living in a poor household have dropped from 34% ten years ago to 27%. For Chinese children, this figure fell from 47% to 12%.
But for white children, the figure rose from 24% to 26%; for Pakistani children, it fell from 50% to 55%; and for black children, it went from 42% to 53%.
Overall, 27% of all children lived in poor households in 2010-11; the last figure is 31%.
Anneliese Dodds, the shadow secretary of state for women and equality, whose office produced the numbers, said the Tories should be ashamed of what they revealed.
“It’s no wonder that child poverty has skyrocketed over the past decade as Conservative ministers have done so little to tackle the structural inequalities that drive it,” she said.
“Conservative incompetence and denial of the existence of structural racism plunge black children into poverty. Labor has a plan to get them out, with a new racial equality law to tackle structural racial inequality at its root. “
Labor announced its commitment to a racial equality law by publishing a review last year by peer Doreen Lawrence on the disproportionate impact of Covid on ethnic minority communities.
The party did not say exactly what its law would contain, but the Lawrence recommendations, which the party accepted, would shape its content.
While much of the Lawrence report focused on issues specific to Covid, it also said the virus had “thrived on structural inequalities that have long marked British society”. Its recommendations included forcing large employers to publish data on pay gaps linked to ethnicity, having clear goals for closing the achievement gap for children, and implementing a strategy of racial equality that enjoys the support of ethnic minority communities.
Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, the think tank on racial equality, said Labor’s figures, while not surprising, were nonetheless “a source of considerable concern”.
She said: “It’s not cyclical inequalities that are being reported, but systemic shortcomings that need to be addressed quickly.
“But the problems are nuanced. Black children face racism and poverty. But poverty is not defined exclusively by race. So, for over a decade, the Runnymede Trust has argued that you can’t just solve the problem of racial inequalities without also addressing socio-economic disparities.
In response to Labor Party claims that the numbers were an indictment of its record, a government spokesperson pointed to separate figures showing that in 2019-2020 there were 300,000 fewer children living in absolute low income, after housing costs, than in 2010.
Absolute low income is defined as being below the figure of 60% of the median income for 2010, adjusted for inflation. People can exit absolute low income if their incomes rise more than inflation, but can remain in relatively low income – the most commonly used benchmark – if the incomes of others increase proportionately more.
The spokesperson said: “The latest official figures show that there were 300,000 fewer children from all backgrounds in poverty after housing costs than in 2010 and we continue to provide significant support to further reduce this number.
“This includes putting £ 1,000 more per year on average in the pockets of the lowest incomes through universal credit changes, raising the minimum wage next April to £ 9.50 per hour and helping to cover the cost of fuel bills. “