There was an article in the Independent last week about child poverty in the UK. It begins:
The Government’s spending cuts will have a “catastrophic” effect on British children, a UN agency has warned, endangering their future health, education and employment….
Labour’s success in cutting the number of children growing up in poverty could be reversed, according to Unicef. Britain did better than many other rich countries in protecting children from deprivation after the financial crisis erupted in 2008, Unicef said in its annual “report card” on 35 developed nations.
The article goes on to say:
Today Nick Clegg will answer the Government’s critics by extending the provision of 15 hours of free childcare each week. Almost 1,000 two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who were due to start receiving free pre-school education from September next year, will now be eligible from this September. All three- and four-year-olds are already eligible for 15 hours of free early education a week between 8am and 6pm. The hours will now be extended to 7am-7pm and parents will be given the option to spread their nursery place over two days rather than three.
But what IS Child poverty? On these sorts of issues it’s always worth trying to find the source documents. In this case its the original UNICEF report which you can download here (1.7MB)
The report explains there are two approaches to measuring child poverty – and the report says quite clearly that both methods have problems.
The first is simply in terms of relative poverty. . Relative poverty is defined as :
” living in a household whose income, when adjusted for family size and composition, is less than 50% of the median income for the country in which they live.”
The report poiints out some of the drawbacks of measuring poverty like this:
It is often argued that relative poverty isn’t ‘real poverty’. Real poverty, it is said, means lacking basics – enough
food to eat, adequate clothing, a dry home, an indoor toilet, hot water, and a bed to sleep in. Once you leave such
basics behind and start drawing poverty lines based on statistical notions like median income, it is argued, you end up with results that fail to make intuitive sense and so fail to convince either politicians or public. Can the child poverty rate
really be said to be rising, for example, at a time when the incomes of the poor are also rising? And can there
really be more children in poverty in the United Kingdom or the United States than in Hungary or Lithuania?
‘relative poverty’ comes to mean very different living standards in different countries: a household with 50% of
median income in Bulgaria has an actual income of 1,400 euros a year; a household with 50% of median
income in Norway has an income of 17,000 euros a year.
Where do you set the poverty line> At 40% of median income, or 50% , or 60% ? UNICEF estimate that 12.1 percent fall below the poverty line if it is set at 50%, and 20.8 percent if it is set at 60%.
However one advantage of this method is that its easy to measure it. In fact we can get the figures on a ward-by-ward basis for our district:
Here children are classified as being in poverty if they live in families in receipt of out of work benefits or in receipt of in-work tax credits where their reported income is less than 60 per cent of median income, for mid-2011.
Local Authority and ward- Percentage of children in poverty
Rochford District Overall 11%
Ashingdon and Canewdon 11%
Barling and Sutton 8%
Downhall and Rawreth 8%
Foulness and Great Wakering 15%
Hawkwell North 8%
Hawkwell South 11%
Hawkwell West 6%
Hockley Central 5%
Hockley North 6%
Hockley West 5%
Rayleigh Central 9%
Sweyne Park 17%
So , in Downhall and Rawreth , 8% of children were living in households with less than 60% of the median national income.
In Southend, the figures are generally higher:
Local Authority and wards – Percentage of children in poverty
Southend-on-Sea overall – 24%
Blenheim Park 25%
Eastwood Park 11%
St Laurence 23%
St. Luke’s 25%
West Leigh 5%
West Shoebury 27%
The second approach is to use a list of 14 items that are important for a child’s well-being, happiness and opportunities in life. If the child’s family can’t afford to provide two or more of these, the child is considered to be deprived:
1. Three meals a day
2. At least one meal a day with meat, chicken or fish (or a vegetarian equivalent)
3. Fresh fruit and vegetables every day
4. Books suitable for the child’s age and knowledge level (not including schoolbooks)
5. Outdoor leisure equipment (bicycle, roller-skates, etc.)
6. Regular leisure activities (swimming, playing an instrument, participating in youth organizations etc.)
7. Indoor games (at least one per child, including educational baby toys, building blocks, board games, computer games etc.)
8. Money to participate in school trips and events
9. A quiet place with enough room and light to do homework
10. An Internet connection
11. Some new clothes (i.e. not all second-hand)
12. Two pairs of properly fitting shoes (including at least one pair of all-weather shoes)
13. The opportunity, from time to time, to invite friends home to play and eat
14. The opportunity to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, name days, religious events etc.
Unicef estimates that , according to surveys, in the UK , 5.5 percent of children lack 2 of these items. 1.3 percent lack 5 or more. Though one problem with surveys is that parents may be unwilling to admit they can’t afford these things.
In contrast Southend Labour blogger Jack
Wilson Monroe writes about her own situation here very openly (and is very critical of the coalition):
I was shocked by how many of these criteria my own household didn’t meet. My child is clean, dressed, and fed; but according to Unicef, not well enough. I fail on eight of the fourteen criteria.
What should local councillors make of this? Well, going back to the Independent again, their editorial thinks the government should concentrate on affordable childcare:
As things now stand, childcare is far from affordable. It costs an average of £200 per week (and much more in pricier areas) and swallows more than a quarter of the average family income. No wonder, then, that so many women simply cannot afford to return to work. Indeed, the Resolution Foundation estimates as many as a million people are “missing” from the labour market, in part because of the cost of childcare.
The situation is bad for all concerned. Bad for the children missing out on vital early education; bad for the households going without an extra wage; bad for the women losing a slug of their earning potential for every year out of the workforce; and bad for the economy in wasted potential and a lower tax take.
It is also costing the state £7bn every year. And with childcare costs ever rising, even that is not enough. In fairness, Nick Clegg will today announce plans to extend free childcare and make the system more flexible. But while his measures are, of course, welcome, they are but tinkering around the edges. In the current climate, it is not realistic to expect the state to pick up the tab, as in oft-quoted Scandinavian examples. But what money there is must be more cleverly spent…
As councillors in Rochford District , we are already keen to provide affordable housing (and that applies across party lines).
So it seems that we should also do what we can – for example through the planning process – to encourage affordable childcare in our district.