Child Poverty in the UK

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In recent weeks, a report compiled by economist Howard Reed for The TUC stated that within two years, 7.1m of the UK’s 13m children will be living in households whose income is judged below the minimum necessary for a decent standard of living. [1] That is to say that the majority of British children will not grow up in economically stable circumstances, and their existence will be decidedly “below the breadline”. Child poverty is rising, whilst policies to help tackle this major social issue are decidedly lacking.

Statistics warning of increases in poverty are worrying, they are unpleasant and difficult to comprehend, but by no means surprising. The coalition’s Budget, presented last Wednesday, looks to carry on the government’s key themes of spending cuts, tax breaks for the wealthy and wage freezes. These are not policies that benefit the poor, nor are they intended to be. Previous policies – well-documented and fervently fought-against – such as the ‘pasty tax’ and ‘bedroom tax’ demonstrate an inherent lack of understanding of the daily lives of typical UK citizens. Whilst the average Briton, and their family, falls further into social and economic crisis, Westminster exhibits no signs of recognition or action.

The Chancellor began his Budget speech stating that the measures contained within it were aimed at ‘those who want to work and get on’, a statement as false as it is vague. [2] The image of child poverty affecting those in households subsisting on benefits, of unemployed parents refusing or unable to find work, is largely untrue. Two-thirds of children growing up in poverty have one or more parent in work. [3] It is presumably not these workers that Osborne believes will benefit from the tough new measures he is about to implement.

As Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, recently told TUC members, ‘Austerity is OK if you are rich’, the story is vastly different for those on minimum wage, in unskilled labour, or on temporary contracts. [4] Osborne’s rhetoric may sound as though it is addressing the average employee, but this is simply not the case. And, where poverty is pervasive, children inevitably experience the repurcussions.

Looking at child poverty from a purely economic perspective, this social crisis is costly. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that it costs £25 billion every year. [5] Prevention is the surest method of reducing such costs; social enterprises aimed at improving quality of life, reducing crime and inspiring children towards worthwhile futures are inevitably more cost effective than funding a judiciary, prison system, police force and other services that are required to cope with the inevitable social repercussions of childhoods spent in poverty.

But the grim reality of child poverty stretches much further than figures on crime in later life. Child Poverty Action Group states that being raised in such circumstances means ‘being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends’. [6] It means fewer qualifications, resulting in dramatically reduced lifetime earning, and a substantially reduced life expectancy. [7] It is the actual, daily, impact upon children; a very real and very human cost.

Whilst the Chancellor has promised to protect the NHS and education in his Budget, it is inescapable that more cuts will mean a greater burden on those who already struggle financially. The figures that began this article, of such stark increased in child poverty, demonstrate that the implications of austerity run throughout society, with, dishearteningly predictably, the most vulnerable being the hardest hit.

Written by Eleanor Pierpoint

Edited by Chris Olewicz

Further reading

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/majority-of-british-children-will-soon-be-growing-up-in-families-struggling-below-the-breadline-government-warned-8531584.html

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21850011

[3] Office of National Statistics, October 2011

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/majority-of-british-children-will-soon-be-growing-up-in-families-struggling-below-the-breadline-government-warned-8531584.html

[5] D Hirsch, Estimating the costs of child poverty, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2008

[6] http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures

[7] Department for Work and Pensions, 2012