Childcare reform and tackling child poverty must go hand in hand

Early education and childcare has not been at the forefront of the last few elections but notably this time around it is a hot topic. All the main political parties seem to recognise, albeit from differing perspectives perhaps, that there is much to be gained from better supporting and investing in children in their earliest years. The Conservatives have re-emphasised their commitment to rolling out 30 hours of childcare a week to working parents with children from nine months old to when they start school by September 2025. The Labour Party have also pledged to deliver this same commitment and plan to open an additional 3,000 nurseries through upgrading space in primary schools to help them do so. The Liberal Democrats for their part say they would close the attainment gap by giving disadvantaged children aged 3 and 4 an extra five hours free a week and tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 a year.

The question we, as London’s Child Poverty Network are asking of all these offerings is whether they will benefit children and families experiencing poverty who at the moment are benefiting less from the system than their wealthier peers. Back in March we published a research report Make Childcare Make Sense for families on low incomes in London’. In it we looked through the eyes of parents of young children living on low incomes in London and found that the current childcare system makes little sense to them. The funding entitlements were often not accessible as they couldn’t be used without having to pay ‘top ups’; they were not flexible enough to meet their individual circumstances; and were not inclusive for their children, those with special educational needs and disabilities and those whose families have no recourse to public funds being especially likely to be excluded. One single mum of a three-year-old told us:

‘You know, you’re kind of making lots and lots of sacrifices to afford what essentially is a basic need to help our economy keep moving. Yeah, [the childcare system] just shuts people out of work.’

Sadly, the Government’s expansion of funding entitlements which began to be rolled out shortly after our report was published in April this year, will do little to improve the situation for these families. Just 1 in 5 (or 20%) of families earning less than £20,000 a year will have access to the planned expansion of funded places for one- and two-year-olds in some working families, compared to 80% of those with household incomes over £45,000.[1] This matters to us because access to affordable, high-quality childcare and tackling child poverty are inextricably linked.

Sky high childcare costs in London are one driver of our high child poverty rate; including childcare costs in the Social Metric Commission’s measure of poverty increases the poverty rate among families with children by 0.4 percentage points.[2]  So, at the most straightforward level, bringing down childcare costs, for those that already incur them, has the potential to reduce levels of child poverty. Beyond this, affordable and accessible childcare can contribute to poverty alleviation by supporting parents and carers to access paid work if they do not already or to increase their hours, and so increase their household income.  Lastly but certainly not least, we know that high quality early education is critical to a child’s development and later educational achievement.[3]

For all these reasons, it is imperative that whoever forms the next Government deliver an early education and childcare system that benefits all children. We believe that the best way to make sure this happens is for childcare reform to be at the heart of a strategy to address child poverty. The Labour Party has made a very welcome commitment in its manifesto to putting in place a Child Poverty Strategy, it must make sure that its policy on childcare in a key plank of this.  If it doesn’t and this synergy isn’t realised is a very real risk that childcare policy rather than reducing inequality, could increase it.

[1] Drayton, E. et al. (2023). Childcare reforms create a new branch of the welfare state – but also huge risks to the market. Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at: news/childcare-reforms-createnew-branch-welfare-state-alsohuge-risks-market

[2] Poverty Strategy Commission (September 2023) Interim Report: A new strategy for tackling poverty

[3] Melhuish, E. and Gardiner, J. (2023). Equal hours? Sutton Trust



A young person speaks: the Local Child Poverty Statistics 2024

By Layla, aged 19 from London (name changed to protect her identity)


I respond to this news not just as a young person, but as someone who has personally experienced the harsh realities of poverty. The recent findings from Loughborough University for the End Child Poverty Coalition resonate deeply with me, and seeing that over 30% of children across the UK are living in poverty, with two-thirds of new constituencies having at least a quarter of children facing this struggle, brings back vivid memories of my own childhood and the beginning of my own adulthood.

Growing up in poverty meant constant uncertainty and anxiety, and meant watching my care giver struggle to make ends meet, sometimes having to choose between paying bills or buying food. It meant missing out on school trips, new clothes, and being pointed out as the free school meals kid. What I’m trying to say is that these are not just statistics; they represent real lives, real struggles, and real futures at risk.

Hearing the call from the End Child Poverty Coalition for political parties to prioritise this issue fills me with a sense of urgency as it would not just be a policy change, but a lifeline for many families.

The disparities highlighted, especially in areas like the North East, London, and the North West, show that this issue is widespread and deeply rooted. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge the problem; we must act.

As someone who has walked this path, I urge our leaders to listen and to act. the upcoming election is a chance to commit to real, meaningful change, and ensuring that no child has to grow up feeling the weight of poverty, and having the opportunity to thrive is something every party should aim to include in their campaign.



Can a national child poverty strategy be all things to all children?

Well, just as we were drawing breath after the London elections, we find ourselves back in election mode once more. And once again we will be straining every sinew to ensure that child poverty is a central issue of the campaign and one that all the political parties are held to account on. In particular we will be making the case for all parties to pledge to a child poverty strategy that not only makes firm and time-bound commitments about reducing and ultimately eradicating child poverty but also recognises that achieving this aim will require different approaches in different parts of the country.

Of course, some of the key policies that we, along with over 100 other members of the End Child Poverty Coalition, want to see front and centre in a child poverty strategy such as abolition of the two-child limit and benefit cap, are ones that an incoming Government in Westminster alone can implement. But we also need a child poverty strategy that operates regionally and locally so that it can respond to the different contexts that children live in across the country. For example, in the North East child poverty is driven in large part by low pay, insecure work and out-of-work poverty (North East Child Poverty Commission, 2024), whereas in London it is exorbitantly high housing costs along with costs such as childcare that are the major issue. Important new analysis from our colleagues at Trust for London and WPI Economics exploring the possible reasons behind the apparent fall in overall poverty numbers in London in the past few years, suggests that costs are now so high that for many people the only way to escape poverty in our city is to leave it.

A national child poverty strategy that fails to recognise these regional differences and allow for differential responses is not going to have the impact it so urgently needs to. The incoming Government, must engage with and harness the data and knowledge that the Greater London Authority, combined and local authorities have about their regions and localities and establish mechanisms to ensure sustained focus and action on the issue at regional and local level.  Moreover, it needs to recognise the impact that the collapse of local government funding has had on children’s services which has undoubtedly affected the poorest children most. It is crucial that a child poverty strategy ensures that local authorities are sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of the children living in their communities.

So, in answer to the question, yes, a national child poverty can and must deliver for all the UK’s children, no child wherever they live should be experiencing poverty, but this will only be achieved if we acknowledge and respond to their different circumstances. From our perspective as the London Child Poverty Network, we will use the coming weeks to champion as loudly as we can the right of the 700,000 children living in poverty in London to live in a poverty free city, a goal that we firmly believe is achievable if the political will is there to achieve it.