A leap of 100,000 in the number of children living in poverty has been branded “shocking”, even before the coronavirus lockdown of the economy bites.

The increase, part of a 600,000 surge since the Conservatives came to power a decade ago, means 4.2 million youngsters in the UK – or 30 per cent – are living below the breadline.

Overall, the number of people living in poverty soared by 500,000 to 14.5 million in 2018-19, the highest total since the statistics were first collected in 2002.

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The bleak figures follow years of criticism that George Osborne’s austerity drive hit the poorest the hardest, with steep cuts to benefits for families, the disabled, the low-paid and the jobless.

“We are facing a child poverty crisis,” warned Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group – urging ministers to prevent the current crisis triggering a further increase in the months to come.

“Unless concerted action is taken now, this week’s laid-off workers and their children will be adding to next year’s poverty statistics.”

Sam Royston, director of policy at the Children’s Society, warned the figures showed poverty was “not just rising, but deepening” with two-thirds if children now in severe hardship.

“The current coronavirus crisis is likely to see this number continue to rise as parents face job losses and falls in earnings.”

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said: “Even before coronavirus, our country’s safety net was failing too many children. Now there’s a danger that even more children will fall through the net.”

And Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “These figures are shocking. After the four-year freeze of working-age benefits, poverty has increased and food bank use has soared.”

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The figures have been released in the year – 2020 – when Tony Blair’s government pledged to abolish child poverty altogether, a vow put into legislation in 2010.

However, it was abolished by Iain Duncan Smith who called it an “unsustainable” commitment – as he prepared to make £12bn of further social security cuts.

The relative poverty measure incorporates people living on or below 60 per cent of the average household income in the UK, after housing costs have been paid.

The Child Poverty Action Group called for “a modest increase” in child benefit of £10 per week, arguing it would cut the numbers below the breadline by 5 percentage points.

Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, insisted the government was “wholly committed to supporting the lowest paid families”, pointing to a higher national minimum wage and the end to the four-year benefits freeze.

“All my efforts are currently focused on providing support to those affected by Covid-19, but we will not lose sight of our commitment to address and tackle the root causes to unleash potential,” she said.

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