Levels of child poverty rose in nearly every council area in Wales in the past five years, a new study has found, prompting charities to warn that low-income families' finances are being pushed to the brink.

At least one in every five children is living below the poverty line in every part of Wales, and the nation now has the worst child poverty rate of all the UK nations, according to research by Loughborough University for the UK End Child Poverty Coalition of charities.

While the ongoing public health crisis has complicated matters and added to pressures for many low-income families, researchers found almost 200,000 children were living in poverty in Wales before the pandemic began.

Ellie Harwood, Wales Development Manager at the Child Poverty Action Group, said the study shows the situation in Wales "couldn't be starker," with an "unacceptable" number of children growing up in poverty, even though their parents are working.

Ms Harwood and other members of the coalition have now called on government – in Wales and in Westminster – to do more for low-income families who are living in, or at risk of, poverty.

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“Action needs to be taken at all levels of government," said Melanie Simmons, the head of Save The Children in Wales. "We are urging the UK government to scrap plans to cut Universal Credit given parents and children are having a tough enough time as it is.

"The role of Welsh Government and local authorities will also be crucial to make sure we are going in the right direction in reducing child poverty.”

Sean O'Neill, policy director at Children in Wales, said child poverty "has to be the number-one priority" for the new government in the Senedd or "yet more children will be swept up into poverty in the months and years to come".

"We can’t allow this situation to go on," Ms Harwood added. "Poverty harms every aspect of a child’s development and has long-term consequences for our society as a whole.

"While the main social security powers remain in Westminster, there are many things public bodies can do to reduce cost pressures on families in Wales. We need dedicated investment in all the services that help children to thrive, in order to reduce inequality across Wales.”

The new study found that child poverty rates had increased in all but two of Wales' 22 council areas in the past five years, and the national average shows that 31 per cent of all children are growing up below the poverty line.

On their own, the figures do not tell the full story of how people are struggling financially and the extremes to which they have to go to afford to survive, especially as the pandemic threw up new challenges.

“We’ve repeatedly heard from families living on low incomes how they have had to cut back on essentials such as food, heating and clothing for children and are sinking deeper into debt," Ms Simmonds said.

"Many parents also didn’t have the tools, resources and skills to adequately support their child’s learning and development at home, which led to a lot of stress and anxiety."

The council areas to have experienced the highest rises in child poverty rates, since 2015, are Wrexham, Ceredigion, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, once housing costs have been taken into account.

Only in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan has there been a drop in child poverty rates in that same time.