A Christian children's charity has urged the UK Government to take immediate action after a new report about poverty in the UK revealed "appalling" realities.
The Social Metrics Commission (SMC) found around 4.5 million people are experiencing the deepest levels of poverty in the UK and have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The proportion of the UK population in "deep poverty" has risen from five per cent to seven per cent over the last two decades, while the overall poverty rate has remained largely unchanged, the commission said.
It means there are 1.7 million more people in deep poverty - living on less than half of what they need to stay above the poverty line - compared to roughly 20 years ago. And this group is being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, it added.
Dr Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children's Society, told Premier: "These new figures - which show that nearly a third of people in poverty are living on less than half of what they would need simply to get above the poverty line - should appal us all.
"Living in poverty has a hugely damaging affect on children's lives, leaving them more likely to experience low well-being, poor mental health and with poorer future prospects."
The SMC collected data between April 2018 and March 2019 to provide a comprehensive account of poverty in the UK.
In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, it then worked with YouGov to poll almost 80,000 people in Britain during March and May 2020.
Before the outbreak, it found there were 4.5 million people living in deep poverty.
Of these, 2.4 million were found to be in "persistent poverty" which has lasted for at least two of the last three years.
The overall UK poverty rate has remained stable, dropping from 23% to 22% over the same period.
This equates to 14.4 million people living in poverty before the Covid-19 crisis, including 4.5 million children; 8.5 million working-age adults and 1.3 million pension-age adults.
Royston said the Government needs to take immediate steps to address the issue.
"Without substantial intervention the coronavirus will undoubtedly unleash further harm to the poorest in society," he said.
"There is no time to waste. The Government must end the five week wait for Universal Credit, suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition which prevents many families from accessing mainstream benefits, and they must make a long term funding commitment for local welfare assistance schemes to ensure families have somewhere to turn if they need emergency financial support.
"Measures such as these would prevent deepening levels of poverty and protect children from needlessly suffering the destitution and disadvantage this report reveals."
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We're committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society and currently spend a record £95 billion a year on our safety net welfare system.
"We know some people are struggling in these unprecedented times and have injected over £6.5 billion into the welfare system, including increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by up to £1,040 a year as well as increasing Local Housing Allowance rates, rolling out income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters.
"This builds on action already taken to support low paid families such as raising the living wage, uplifting benefits by inflation and increasing work incentives."
Listen to Premier's interview with Sam Royston here: