Poverty is a disease often associated with Third World and developing countries, where the outcome is often death from starvation or disease. Although this extreme form of poverty is rarely seen in the UK, there is a more discreet form of poverty which is taking hold at home in the UK; one which can be attributed to having less money and lower living standards than others in the same society (European Anti-Poverty Network, 2009). Child poverty is a direct result of adult poverty (Poverties.org, 2011-2012) however unlike an adult, experiencing poverty as a child can have lifelong consequences. In April 2011, there were 13 million people in the UK living below the poverty line, including 3.6 million children (Department for Work and Pensions, 2011), and those numbers are projected to rise further (Child Poverty action Group, 2000-2012). This kind of poverty does not discriminate between individuals, families or groups of people. Inadequate resources are compensated by cold hard cash shrouding the wider issue of the lack of human and social capital (Child Poverty Action Group, 2000-2012).
It is a strange paradox that children themselves are a major contributing factor to their own poverty. When a child is born, a family’s income is spread further. At a time when income is needed most, parents face the difficult decision of whether to return to work or to stay at home; either having negative consequences on the family budget in terms of of higher expenses or less income. Some parents will be supported by the welfare system however the current system of increasing benefits by inflation is causing a relative drop in benefit levels when compared to average earnings.
The UK experiences a higher proportion of its population in relative low income than most other EU countries (The Poverty site, 2013) and the recent announcement of a 1% increase cap on some benefits will only make inequality in the UK worse. In the 2012 report entitled Born Equal, Save the Children suggest the difference between rich and poor is vast, and that inequality is a major contributory factor in relative poverty, further evidenced in research undertaken by professor Richard Wilkinson at the University of Nottingham, where a wide differential in wealth is linked to undesirable outcomes.
Child poverty affects societies both directly and indirectly. The impact of poverty affects whole communities though increased taxes, negative effects on the economy, and a strain on public services. A 2008 report by published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that a child subjected to poverty in childhood is more likely to suffer health problems from birth and acquire health issues as they mature. In the same report Griggs and Walker link low income with health issues which are caused by poorer housing and fewer safe places to play. Maternal health however has also been shown to impact on child health; it thrives by transcending generations like beggarly bacteria from mother to child. The longer term impact of child poverty can be seen in the form of increased risk of physical and mental health issues in adulthood as well as shortened life expectancy (Griggs, 2008).
In addition, illness can become the cause of poverty; a relationship which becomes bi-directional as the poverty is also detrimental to health (Griggs, 2008). The consequences are also seen in educational outcomes which further impact employment prospects. The education attainment gap is evident as young as 2 years old and the gap widens throughout compulsory education so that poverty ridden children are 6 times more likely to leave school without qualifications (Griggs & Walker, 2008) resulting in a lower skilled workforce, which translates into lower earnings over the course of a lifetime. Even those in work are more likely to have unskilled jobs and be poorly paid in adult life (Griggs & Walker, 2008).
In order to tackle poverty we need to break the cycle. Barnado’s claim interventions thus far have only assisted those who are easiest to help. In April 2004, the government set out a policy which aims to tackle child poverty by addressing low achievement, aspirations and opportunities however research undertaken by Carter-Wall and Whitfield in 2012 did not find a link between parental aspirations and education outcomes. What is known, is that in societies where the difference between the most wealthy and least wealthy is greatest, there is lower life expectancy, more health issues, lower education outcomes and more social problems, the same outcomes as those associated with poverty (How economic inequality harms societies, 2011).
However, in terms of wealth equalisation, employment opportunity in itself will not guarantee a route out of poverty; low wages and high childcare costs for parents mean they are often no better off (BBC, Radio 4, How do you tackle child poverty?, 2011). Two thirds of children grow up in a home where at least one parent works (Department for work and pensions, 2012) therefore any intervention must ensure that work provides the opportunity to improve the family’s overall wealth situation. The upward trend of child poverty is set to continue unless the barriers to creating additional wealth through employment are broken down. If successful, it may well ensure that poverty does not continue into another generation. Thus, any intervention to tackle poverty needs to address wealth redistribution though the tax and benefits system
In conclusion, it is clear that Child poverty in the UK is something that is in need of urgent attention. It is an affliction caused by the absence of opportunity, poor health and lack of social mobility with side effects such as ever increasing taxes, failing public services and a negative impact on our economy. Financial resources alone will not fix child poverty; but a more even distribution of wealth has been proven to address the inequality that creeps silently throughout society, decaying the hope of opportunity and change for whole generations. Through enhanced wealth distribution we can create a fairer, more productive society which has endless benefits for this generation and for generations to come.
BBC, Radio 4, How do you tackle child poverty?, 2011. How do you tackle child poverty?. [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9469000/9469966.stm [Accessed 12 10 2012].
Child Poverty action Group, 2000-2012. Child poverty facts and figures. [Online] Available at: http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures [Accessed 12 October 2012].
Child Poverty Action Group, 2000-2012. What is Poverty?. [Online] Available at: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/what-is-poverty [Accessed 4 January 2013].
Department for Work and Pensions, 2011. A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Familie’s Lives, s.l.:
Her Majesty’s Stationary Office. Department for work and pensions, 2012. Households below average income, An analysis of income distribution 1994/5-2010/11, Table 4.3db. [Online] Available at: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/hbai/hbai2011/pdf_files/full_hbai12.pdf [Accessed 5 January 2013].
End Child Poverty, 2013. Why End Child Poverty?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/why-end-child-poverty [Accessed 5 January 2013].
Griggs, J. & Walker, R., 2008. Jospeh Rowntree Foundation. [Online] Available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/costs-child-poverty-individuals-and-society-literature-review [Accessed 5 January 2013].