The urban face of childhood poverty in the United Kingdom
One in every four children in the United Kingdom lives in poverty. This means that, once housing costs are taken into account, a quarter of the UK’s children live in households who either depend on out of work benefits or low earnings plus tax credits, and whose income is below 60% of the median. This week, End Child Poverty published a report by Donald Hirsch and me, looking at the local picture: where is child poverty highest in modern Britain?
When looking at where the risk of childhood poverty is the highest, one can see that the proportion of children living in poverty in the United Kingdom tends to be higher in large cities than elsewhere. Out of the twenty local authorities with the highest levels of child poverty, fourteen are located in London, with Tower Hamlets topping the list (49%), followed by Hackney (41%), and Newham (41%). Manchester ranks fourth with 39% of children living in poverty, Birmingham and Leicester rank eighth and ninth respectively with figures of around 37%, and Nottingham ranks thirteenth with 36%. Glasgow follows closely with 33%.
The mostly urbanised picture of childhood poverty tells two stories. One story relates to the factors that may drive it. Low household disposable income, which could be related to worklessness and low pay, and exacerbated by high prices, is reflected in many parents struggling to make ends meet. On the one hand, we recently learned that unemployment has fallen. Nevertheless, the incipient signs of recovery will only partly address child poverty: while 1.1 million of the children living in poverty in the UK are in workless households, 2.3 million children living in poverty are in families where at least one adult is working. On the other hand, even though the most recent inflation figure (1.2%) indicates the lowest rate in five years, real earnings have declined continuously since 2008. The increasing costs of food, housing, energy, and childcare, particularly in urban areas, have prevented many households from maintaining a decent standard of living and caused children to suffer the consequences of poverty. The story of child poverty in urban areas is mostly a story of in-work poverty.
The other story is about the living conditions that children in poverty face in their daily lives. Children living in poverty may not get three healthy meals a day, may spend cold nights because their household cannot afford the energy bills, may share an overcrowded room, or may need to walk long distances to school because there is not enough money to pay for transport. There is mounting evidence of the scarring effects of growing up in poverty on a child’s health and mental development. It can also lead to social exclusion, such as when a child is unable to join their school peers in sports or cultural outings, or have a birthday celebration. The Poverty Ends Now children’s manifesto and action plan on child poverty, launched on 15 October, brings this home through one child’s words: “when our friends come to our house, they never come back”. Childhood poverty not only taints a child’s development but could also lead to social isolation.