University of Sussex Media Release.
. Child Poverty Increase Puts Britain to Shame

20 July 1999
For immediate release

One in three British children are living in poverty, a new study shows.

The study, which is published today (Tuesday 20th July), finds that over 4 million children were living in poverty in 1995/6 - three times the number of 20 years ago. Undertaken by economist Susan Harkness of Sussex University, along with colleagues from the London School of Economics, the research highlights the consequences of this rapid growth in inequality for the children of the future.

One of the biggest sea-changes over the last 20 years is in the number of children living in households where no-one works. Over half of the children living in poverty (2.3 million) – and one in five of all children - live in homes where no-one works. This is a far higher proportion than in any other OECD country - in France, Germany and Italy the proportions living in households without a working adult are far lower at under 10 percent. Not only does Britain stand out as having a particular problem of worklessness among families with children, but it has also seen the largest increase in worklessness over the last decade. A significant factor in the soaring levels of child poverty over the last 20 years is the plummeting rate of employment among single parent families, which has halved since the late 1960s.

The study also shows a growing gap between the income levels of those with and without children, and a rapid growth in income inequality among those families who do have children. Over the last thirty years there has been no real increase in expenditure on clothes, shoes or toys for the poorest 20% of children. In contrast for the richest children expenditure has grown rapidly.

Crucially, Dr Harkness’ research points to a trend of poverty becoming more entrenched across successive generations. Labour market earnings are lower and joblessness rates higher for adults who spent their childhood in poverty. This coupled with the enormous increase in the incidence of child poverty leaves an ominous legacy for the children of the future.

It is this inter-generational pattern which disturbs Dr Harkness: "The Prime Minister has recently called for the abolition of child poverty within a generation, but our research demonstrates that this will be a huge task. Childhood poverty has now reached critical levels and this has stark implications for future generations. The government now needs to address the problems of childhood poverty urgently."

The study is published in Fiscal Studies, Volume 20 No. 2. This is available for £10 from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 7 Ridgmount St, London WC1E 7AE.

For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email, or Dr Susan Harkness, School of Social Sciences, Tel. 01273 606755 ext 2465, email

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