You might think of child poverty as something that used to occur in Victorian Britain or something that only affects developing countries. However, research carried out recently has shown that it’s a growing phenomenon in the UK. Join us while we look at this issue in depth.
In this article, we look at what the statistics tell us about child poverty in the UK and the reasons for it. We also look at what impact it has on the children and their lives. Finally, we examine how we can tackle this problem. Before answering these questions, let’s look at the definition of child poverty.
What is Child Poverty?
Child poverty has been defined as when a family is living on less than 60% of the median national household income.
How Many Children in the UK are Living in Poverty?
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that 13 million Britons are living in poverty according to the above definition, including 3.7 million children.
Although the national average is 27%, it will come as no surprise to learn that some areas of the UK are affected much more than others. Using HMRC data and the Labour Force Survey, the charity called End Child Poverty coalition found that in some parts of the country more than half of the children were growing up in severely deprived conditions.
The ‘Poverty & Life Chances Commission’ report discovered that in 25 parliamentary constituencies (mostly in London, Birmingham and Greater Manchester) more than 40% children lived below the poverty line. The worst was:
- Coldhurst Ward (Oldham): 62.1%
- Tower Hamlets (London): 53.4%
- Manchester: 43.6%
- Birmingham: 42.3%
According to the Children’s Society charity, the rates of child poverty in the UK are one of the worst in the industrialised world. More worryingly, the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) has predicted that it’s set to rise significantly over the next three years.
What are the Effects of Child Poverty?
Research carried out has repeatedly shown that poverty affects all aspects of children’s lives.
Firstly, a lack of money affects their daily living conditions. To economise, households cut down on their spending on food as well as their utility bills. This means that children are fed cheap, less nutritious food and are often hungry and cold. These factors, combined with poor quality housing, mean that poverty-stricken children are more likely to suffer from ill-health. They are also more likely to suffer from chronic conditions.
Being poor means that children are often unable to take part in extracurricular activities that other kids take for granted while an annual holiday is out of the question. This can have an impact on their mental health.
Children in disadvantaged families are less likely to achieve their academic potential. Not only does this make it more difficult for them to find gainful employment but it threatens their future financial security. They’re statistically more likely to continue to live in poverty upon adulthood and when they have their own children.
Why has UK Child Poverty Risen in Recent Years?
The End Child Poverty coalition has highlighted some reasons for the increase in child poverty.
One of these has been the 4-year freeze on social security benefits, which began in 2016 as part of the government’s austerity programme. The Child Poverty Action Group claims that proposed changes to social security especially the roll-out of Universal Credit has pushed another 1 million children below the poverty line.
Charities have also blamed the lack of childcare provision which makes it difficult for parents to work. This problem is acute for the increasing number of single-parent households, who have no choice but to take on lower-paid part-time work.
The Poor & Payday Loans
As part of their efforts to make ends meet, households under the poverty line often try to take out direct lender loans. This is only a short-term solution at best as the loans aren’t intended to cover a gap between earnings and outgoings on a permanent basis.
With child poverty on the rise, it’s possible that loan applications will increase in the future. In light of regulatory changes and the emphasis on the affordability of loans, they won’t necessarily be approved. Quick loan lenders are worried about how such households will be able to pay the loan back with their other commitments.
How to Tackle Child Poverty
The Government’s Answer to Child Poverty
The government has defended its record by saying that they have created 3 million new job positions. They believe that the key to lifting people out of poverty is through providing households with paid employment – rather than relying on benefits.
However, the truth of the matter is that 67% of those living under the poverty line are in households where at least one adult works. The problem isn’t the fact that they’re unemployed. It is their lack of skills means they often work in sectors like care and the hospitality industries. Work is often low-paid, part-time and they’re often at the mercy of work practices like zero hour contracts.
Suggestions from Charities for Child Poverty
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has a 5-point plan to end poverty in the UK.
The Foundation believes a commitment to building affordable social housing would solve many of the current problems facing the poor. They estimate that an extra £1 billion a year needs to be spent.
They think that the state must make changes to the implementation of Universal Credit. This would ensure that it acts as a safety net for those in need.
Access to Education
Another recommendation of the Foundation is that the state should improve access to education for 5 million adults (including basic numeracy and literacy skills). The best way to help the children is to ensure their parents can provide for their children by access to better job opportunities.
Households are often trapped in poverty because they’re unable to access affordable childcare. Having a place to leave their children will enable parents to work full-time.
Long-Term Income Growth
Finally, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation believe that nothing will really solve the problem of child poverty unless it’s part of long-term economic growth which reaches all sectors of society and all regions.
Do the ideas of the Foundation sound idealistic and unworkable? Are you perhaps shaking your head at the impracticalities and expenses of their plan?
To refute these criticisms, the charity has estimated that at the moment, poverty costs Britain £78 billion a year. This represents £1 of every £5 spent on public services. Surely, prevention would be better than spending cash on the negative consequences of poverty? The way things now stand children have little likelihood of escaping poverty. And it will continue into the next generation.