The price of child poverty

Child poverty is a UK wide problem affecting one in four children. It negatively impacts health, including poor physical and mental wellbeing – as well as a child’s education, from development, to achievements and progression.

Poverty is the price a child pays for being born into a low income family. It affects a massive one in four children in the UK and punishes them for a life they did not choose.

I grew up poor, and I felt the hard hands of poverty in many aspects of my life. I was born in Ghana in the early 80’s and came to join my parents when I was 5 years old, living on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham.

In my North London borough, one in three children grow up trapped in poverty, and this is not just a reflection of the area in which I was raised; London lays claim to being the area with the highest rates of child poverty in the UK.

Unfortunately the bleak statistics don’t stop there. It is a UK wide problem, forecast to get worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicts that relative child poverty in the UK is “projected to rise by 7.8ppts, from 17.8% in 2015–16 to 25.7% in 2020–21. ” Absolute child poverty is projected to follow in the same footsteps.

Although the “Government has a statutory requirement, enshrined in the Child Poverty Act 2010 to end child poverty by 2020. It is predicated that by 2020/21 another 1 million children will be pushed into poverty.” Hundreds of thousands – no, millions of children will be left missing out.

Being poor wasn’t solely a status, it affected my daily life; from health, to education and the ability to participate in daily activities. I want to raise awareness of these issues through sharing my own experiences and the experiences of others.

Being poor wasn’t solely a status, it affected my daily life; from health, to education and the ability to participate in daily activities. I can’t sit by and watch more children become a part of that statistic. Every child needs an equal start in life.

It’s no secret that child poverty negatively impacts health, including poor physical and mental wellbeing. It’s shocking that infant mortality is higher in low income families , that surprisingly (or not) they weigh less as babies, are more likely to have physical and mental illnesses and a lower life expectancy – but these are all very real facts for children living in poverty.

Due to unemployment, low wages, short contracted hours, the lack of progression and development in work, most parents on a low income are trapped in a cycle of having little money to spend on food. Parents on low income tend to buy the food they can afford – low quality, economy items with less nutritional value. This poor diet teamed with the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables has been proven to lead to long and short term illnesses like diabetes and obesity.

It’s not just food that impacts the health of children but living conditions as well. Housing that is cold, cramped, damp, and in disrepair is more likely to cause illness and accidents. I myself know what it’s like to grow up poor in cramped housing. A home that was not fit for study. There was 8 of us in a 2 bed flat, double bunk bed in the living room. Even so I did not have space. I remember my first day at university was the first was the first time I had spent a night on a bed for a number of years.

Stack all of these factors up against an adult living in poverty and imagine the intense bouts of stress that would trigger. In turn this would play out in their relationship with their child, inadvertently affecting their emotional wellbeing too.

However, health is only one penalty of poverty. Let’s consider the impact of poverty on a child’s education as well; from development, to achievements and progression.

Cuts to social safety nets, rising inflation and living costs mean that low income families are forced to support their children on as little as a meagre £13 per head per day. I know from my own experience that my parents struggled to ensure our money covered our basic needs, including utility bills, clothes and food. This left hardly any money for luxuries like books, educational toys and extracurricular activities.

A combination of being unable to access learning resources and a parents’ preoccupation with making ends meet inevitably sets back a child’s development. Learning is simply not at the top of the agenda. As a result, low income children may not be as prepared for school than their peers.

Once at school, children from low income families are not as likely to be able to participate in extracurricular activities or school trips, as that equals money – money that they do not have. Yet again, these children miss out on vital learning experiences. I remember that my friends and I used to hide school trip letters from our parents, as we knew they couldn’t afford it.

Hunger and homework are other major factors which impede a child’s development and progression. How is a child expected to concentrate in class when they are deprived of food? How can a child complete homework in a poor living conditions or if they are not motivated to do so by their parents?

The Department for Education’s report shows the full extent of child poverty impacting education, charting the attainment gap of disadvantaged children and their lack of progression onto higher education, then to better paid jobs. You can read more about this here.

During sixth form, aged 16, I started getting help from the state: EMA! Education Maintenance Allowance helped me no end. Though it was only £30 per week that money paid for my transport to college, my books and enabled me to socialise a little with my friends. It evened the playing field somewhat but most importantly took a great burden off my parents, and for thousands it raised participation in post-16 education.

Due to government help, the support of my extended family, parents and a social worker, I managed to escape these statistics and succeed but every child is not so lucky.

The Government’s Child Poverty Strategy – to support families into work and increase earnings, improve the living standards of low-income families though reducing costs, and break the cycle of poor children going on to be poor adults by breaking the attainment gap – unfortunately, has got a long way to go.

I want to see a future when every child starts off on an even keel, where the future is bright and filled full of success. I strongly believe that every child should have the opportunity to reach their potential, whatever that may be – no child should have to pay the price of poverty.

Join me in the discussion at @Eugene_ayisi

Further reading…

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