Levels of child poverty in the UK have dramatically increased over the last 50 years, with 3.5m children now living in poverty.
That was among the findings of a report, Greater Expectations, published today by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).
Researchers compared data on children’s lives today with a 1973 cohort to investigate the impact poverty and disadvantage is having on children’s lives.
It found a dramatic increase in child poverty levels, with 1.5m more children growing up in poverty in the UK now – 3.5m compared with 2m children 50 years ago.
The report also compared children’s quality of life in the UK with that of other industrialised countries and found almost 1m children could be lifted out of poverty if the UK was the best place to grow up.
More than a quarter of a million (770,000) under fives would no longer be living in poor housing conditions, and 172 child deaths through unintential injuries alone could be prevented, the report also found.
Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the NCB, said the UK risks sleep walking into a world where a social apartheid exists.
“Our analysis shows that despite some improvements, the inequality and disadvantage suffered by poorer children 50 years ago still persists today.
“There is a real risk that as a nation we are sleep walking into a world where children grow up in a state of social apartheid, with poor children destined to experience hardship and disadvantage just by accident of birth, and their more affluent peers unaware of their existence,” Emery said.
The report is a critical moment of opportunity to tackle inequality and child poverty, she said.
“Government has a major role to play in leading the way to address this, but there must also be a wider mobilisation of efforts and resources led by politicians from every party, involving charities, businesses and communities all playing a part in having greater expectations for every child.”
The NCB is now calling for a central government board, with full ministerial representation, to develop and implement a cross-government strategy to reduce the inequality and disadvantage children face today.
The charity also recommends that the Office for Budget Responsibility discloses the impact the chancellors budget will have on child poverty and inequality.