Around a million children in the UK are living in destitution – with harmful consequences for their development

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Emma Louise Gorman, University of Westminster

Millions of people in the UK are unable to meet their most basic physical needs: to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. This is known as destitution.

Recent analysis from charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimates that around 3.8 million people in the UK experienced destitution at some point during 2022. This is a 61% increase since 2019 – and a 148% increase since 2017.

Living in destitution means severe material hardship. The JRF’s 2022 survey of crisis service users in the UK found that 61% reported going without food in the month before the survey. They often put other needs, such as accommodation or feeding their children, over feeding themselves.

About half of the people surveyed were not able to afford adequate clothing and basic necessities, such as toiletries. Many talked of living in insecure and low quality housing.

One particularly alarming aspect of these most recent statistics is the steep increase in the number of children living in destitution. In 2022, around 1 million children lived in households who experienced destitution. This is an increase of 88% since the charity’s corresponding 2019 study, and a 186% increase since the 2017 study.

Impact on children

Destitution causes immediate suffering. But for these children, this experience of hardship at a young age will have consequences that last throughout their lives. There is little doubt that both money and environment (housing quality, parental mental health and nutrition, for example) contribute to inequalities in child development. Both of these factors are affected by living in destitution.

When children reach the age of three, stark differences are already evident between those who live in poverty and those who do not. Children from more well-off families have better developed skills in both cognitive tasks, such as understanding basic concepts like colours, letters, numbers and shapes, as well as socio-emotional skills, such as self-control and resilience.

Other factors that are important in shaping children’s skills include housing quality and parental mental health.

Inequalities so early in life can compound and widen over time. These differences between the disadvantaged and the better off can be seen in educational achievement, health and criminal activity.

These types of inequalities were also exacerbated by the pandemic. While pupils everywhere missed out on education, these learning losses were not equally distributed: young people from lower socio-economic background fell further behind.

Despite large increases in funding for the early-year sectors, socio-economic inequalities in child development have not generally narrowed, particularly in recent years.

And now, the sharp increase in the share of children living in destitution does not paint a optimistic picture for the future.

Making a difference

However, many of these issues can be changed by government policy. For example, we know that being hungry at school makes it difficult to concentrate and learn. Measures that address hunger, then, can make a difference. Analysis of a trial of breakfast clubs in English schools, which offered free breakfast to disadvantaged children aged six and seven, found that the free breakfast lead to the equivalent of two months’ extra progress in reading, writing and maths across the course of one year.

Research has shown that many early interventions – such as high quality childcare and education programmes for at-risk children – can have long-lasting positive effects. From an economic perspective, acting early to lift children out of poverty and improve their home and learning environments can be a cost-effective way of helping in the long run, both for individuals as well as wider society.

Another option would be reform of the benefits system to make sure families have enough money to live. In the 2022 Joseph Rowntree Foundation survey of people who used crisis centres, 72% did receive social security benefits – but were still destitute.

This rise in children living in household experiencing destitution must be given serious attention. Successive governments claim to hold upward social mobility as a important goal – that is, the ability of people to move up the economic and social ladder, regardless of their own upbringing and social background. Reducing destitution would not only benefit children right now, but would help them throughout life.The Conversation

Emma Louise Gorman, Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Employment Research, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingAround a million children in the UK are living in destitution – with harmful consequences for their development

Free school meals scheme extended to every primary school pupil in London

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THE Mayor of London unveiled an emergency scheme today to extend free school meals to every primary school pupil in the capital for one year.

Sadiq Khan said the one-off £130m programme, which comes into effect from September, is an effort to help struggling households amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Funded by extra business rates income, it is estimated the move will help about 270,000 primary school pupils and save families in London about £440 per child over the year.

Currently, households in England receiving universal credit must earn less than £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax to qualify for free school meals.

Continue ReadingFree school meals scheme extended to every primary school pupil in London

New Statesman: When David Cameron became Tory leader, he wanted to end child poverty. Now he just wants to stop measuring it

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New Statesman: When David Cameron became Tory leader, he wanted to end child poverty. Now he just wants to stop measuring it

Now you see it…  Now you don’t.  The government’s rustled up a party trick for the kids this Christmas. They’re going to make 3.7 million of them disappear.

Britain’s children aren’t going anywhere, of course, particularly those who are growing up poor. But with a legislative sleight of hand, the government plans to quietly give up on the targets to end child poverty enshrined (with cross-party support) in the Child Poverty Act 2010.

And with it, they’re hoping to magic away any mention of child poverty at all. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission will become the Social Mobility Commission. The Child Poverty Act will become the Life Chances Act.

All this is more than a little politically convenient.  Apart from a solitary BBC Today programme interview with Iain Duncan Smith last year, which left presenter Evan Davis audibly flabbergasted, not even the Government claims it is on track to meet the child poverty targets.

Indeed, the latest available projections, from the Resolution Foundation, warn child poverty will rise from 2.3m children to 3.3m by 2020 – a figure that will be even higher once the poverty-producing impact of the Summer Budget and the Autumn Statement is totted up.


I suppose there may be a few chimneys left for them to sweep and the poverty will keep them small enough.

Continue ReadingNew Statesman: When David Cameron became Tory leader, he wanted to end child poverty. Now he just wants to stop measuring it