WREXHAM, Wales — Despite technological and social advances more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty with this rate affecting children the most “disproportionately.” Impoverished children lack basic needs such as food, sanitation, health care, education and shelter. UNICEF reported that 100 million additional children have sunken into multidimensional poverty due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, with a further estimate of 356 million children reportedly living in extreme scenarios of poverty.
With 1 billion children worldwide falling into the category of being multidimensionally poor, this puts children twice as likely to be living in poverty putting them at further risk of developing fewer skills and consequently earning lower wages as an adult.
Child Poverty in the UK
The Borgen Project previously had the honor to interview Professor David Gordon, the Director of the Bristol Poverty Institute and Social Justice as well as a former U.N., UNICEF and Child Poverty Expert for the Welsh Assembly Government. Professor Gordon explained that child poverty in the U.K. was decreasing until the COVID-19 Pandemic and that the U.N. estimates there is more poverty present in the U.K. as of 2023 than there was in 2015. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimated that one in five people or 20% of the U.K. lived in poverty with 3.9 million being children. In the last 25 years, children have had the highest poverty rates.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) revealed that 44% of children in single-parent families in the U.K. suffer from poverty and are more at risk due to the absence of an extra income provider, gender equality in pay/employment and childcare costs. Children from Black and/or minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty with 48% of that population currently residing in poverty whilst it’s 25% of White British families.
Child poverty in the U.K. can have a long-term impact on individuals, communities and society. Children growing up in poverty are more likely to experience difficulties in education. Over three-quarters of responders to a National Education Union (NEU) survey displayed fatigue (78%) and poor concentration (75%) due to poverty and half of the members experienced hunger or ill health. More than third reported cases of bullying and children who access free school meals are 28% more likely to leave school without the required GCSE grades to attend further education. Child poverty in the U.K. is limiting children’s abilities and creating barriers to their access to a better life.
“Intergenerational transmission of poverty” means that child poverty will likely continue as one gets older, however reducing poverty is an important investment since it could produce a higher GDP and reduce crime and health care. A labor force with fewer skills and a lack of education could limit productivity, economic growth and the country’s ability to compact in the global economy. Professor Gordon explained that eliminating child poverty in the U.K. would cost between 2% and 3% of the country’s GDP and another 2% and 3% to keep it that way. He labeled it as “investing in the children of your country.”
Child poverty can negatively affect a child’s physical and mental health which can lead to nutrition illnesses, chronic illnesses, stress and overall well-being. Those born in low incomes households and lower socioeconomic groups have less chance of accessing health care with ill health and poverty being directly linked. Short-term health problems tend to have long-term implications on the child with those growing up in poorer households experiencing severe mental and physical issues, therefore increasing health care spending and cost for the economy through sickness leaves and reduced productivity.
The CPAG released a step-by-step plan to logically reduce and eradicate child poverty in the U.K. Some of the solutions involved; rolling out universal free school meals across England, reduction of a waiting period for the first universal credit to two weeks, restoring staffing levels, 30-hour free entitlement to childcare for all families, increased support for children’s centers and abolishing zero-hour contracts.
Child poverty in the U.K. has worsened since the pandemic. Professor Gordon explains that he believes eradicating child poverty in the 21st century is completely plausible and that most child poverty results in middle-income and high-income countries. He summed it up wisely saying “Children shouldn’t be generating their own sources, working or earning money, they should be at school or playing with their friends.”
– Joshua Rogers