Child poverty in London - key facts

  • 592,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, 37 per cent of all children in the capital. While poverty rates are higher for everyone in London than nationally, this gap is larger for children than for any other group.
  • London has the highest rate of child poverty of any English region. There are as many poor children in London as in all of Scotland and Wales.
  • Child poverty rates in London have fallen slightly over the last ten years: at the end of the 1990s, 41 per cent of children in the capital were poor.
  • The boroughs with the highest rates of child poverty in London are (in alphabetical order):
    • Barking and Dagenham
    • Camden
    • Enfield
    • Hackney
    • Hammersmith
    • Haringey
    • Islington
    • Lambeth
    • Newham
    • Tower Hamlets
    • Waltham Forest
    • Westminster.
  • Tower Hamlets, Islington and Hackney all have child poverty rates higher than anywhere else in the country.
  • The high cost of living in London means that the experience of growing up in poverty is one of particular hardship. Over 20 per cent of children in low income households in London can’t afford to have friends round for tea or a snack, compared to around 15 per cent in the rest of the country; similar proportions can’t afford a hobby or leisure activity.

What factors explain London’s high rates of child poverty?

  • The London Child Poverty Commission’s report of 2008 concluded that:

'The underlying causes of this entrenched child poverty are surprisingly simple – the employment rate among parents, in particular mothers, is much lower than elsewhere in the country, driven in part by a lack of part-time jobs and flexible childcare, as well as higher housing, childcare, and living costs.'

53 per cent of women in London who have children are employed, compared to 65 per cent across the UK.

  • However, there are high rates of poverty amongst households with someone in work, and children in these households now account for over half of all those in poverty.
  • While the lack of part-time jobs is a key problem in explaining London’s high rates of poverty, part time work alone will not always enable families to escape it. As the New Policy Institute set out in London’s Poverty Profile,

'the number of workless families fell by over 100,000 in the decade to 2009-10. But the commensurate rise in the number of children in working families has largely been in families where one adult, and possibly the sole earner, works part time. Among such families, the risk of poverty is still quite high. Part time work is not sufficient to lift a family out of poverty.'

  • What’s more, the number of ‘mixed’ families those combining work and workless households is higher in London than elsewhere, with almost two-fifths of children in these households, compared with a third in Great Britain.
  • Tackling poverty in London seems therefore to require both more opportunities for families who do not have work to move into part-time employment, and in those families where only one person is working part time, an increase in the total number of working hours.
  • The nature of London’s labour market is therefore a key factor behind child poverty rates in the capital. The London Child Poverty Commission pointed out that

'in a very large labour market such as London’s, workers in low wage jobs tend to lose out because there is always more competition from younger (and therefore cheaper) workers seeking the same kind of employment… lower paid service sector jobs are therefore even less of a sustainable option for parents in London than elsewhere.'

  • This does not mean that London’s child poverty rates are inevitable. High childcare, transport and housing costs add to poverty traps, whereby parents are not better off in work even if they do find suitable employment. Childcare costs are 23 per cent higher in London than the England average, and housing costs around 50 per cent higher.
  • London’s high child poverty rates are also to some extent a function of the different profile of families who live in London.
  • Minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty at a national level, and around half of those in inner London, and 40 per cent of those in outer London come from an ethnic group other than ‘White British’ compared to 15 per cent of those in the rest of England. The proportion of children living with lone parents, and in social housing, groups which are also more likely to be in poverty, are also higher than in other regions.
  • It is worth noting that London’s poor performance on poverty contrasts with its record on improving the educational attainment of poor children. A greater proportion of pupils on free school meals in inner London (51.6 per cent) achieve 5 good GCSEs than the average for all pupils (both on and not on free school meals) in England (51.1 per cent), and results are better for those on free school meals in outer London (43.1 per cent) than for the national average for free school meals (34.7 per cent).