Child poverty – the challenges we face

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Despite ranking as having the fifth strongest economy in the world, societal inequality in the UK remains unacceptably high – especially when it comes to children.

In November 2022, the Government published its latest figures on the estimated number of children living in households that are dependent on state benefits.

It found that there are 11.3 million children living in England, Scotland, and Wales. Of these, 6 in 10 (59%) live in households that claim Child Benefit plus other benefits, such as Universal Credit.

In fact, according to Save the Children, around 3.8 million children live in households receiving Universal Credit – a monthly payment giving support with living costs to those on a low income or out of work.

Although the Government has agreed to uprate (increase the amount received) Child Benefit, for example, by £3.65 in the next financial year from £36.25 to £39.90 per child, families are struggling in the here and now.

Indeed, also in November, Inside Housing reported that the number of families in the UK living with children who are currently living in temporary accommodation has increased by 57% since 2010 to just under 121,000. Perhaps more worrying is that 1 in 5 (22%) of them are infants under the age of five years. We’re talking child poverty at levels not seen for over 25 years.

The Trussell Trust estimates that food bank usage increased by 40% in 2022, while the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that one in five people are now living in poverty.

There are many reasons for the statistics that we are seeing – soaring rents, wages lagging behind inflation, higher rising energy prices and increasing fuel costs to name but a few. Of course, whilst the figures above are representative of Great Britain as a whole there will likely be regional disparities.

In Bath and North East Somerset alone, we have around 6,000 people under the age of 15 living in poverty, according to data provided by BaNES Council. This means 1 in 5 (20%) of children and young people in BaNES were technically living in ‘absolute’ poverty.

Location aside, regardless of whether families with children are living in BaNES or Merseyside, East Lanarkshire or Gwent, they need support because both the short and long-term implications this will have on young people within our respective communities are significant. The educational attainment gap (the gap between socially disadvantaged children and their peers) at Key Stage 2 among children in BaNES is, regrettably, one of the widest of all local authorities in England. The solution is not simply a case of giving children access to better education although is critical.  Rather, having access to nutritious and affordable food is not only an imperative, but it has also been shown to better facilitate cognitive skills and brain development as a whole, especially during the first three years of a child’s life. Getting this ‘right’ has “long-term consequences with respect to education, job potential, and adult mental health.”

Tackling child poverty in BaNES takes a multifaceted approach. There is no single solution. St John’s Foundation is committed to improving the lives of infants, children and young people across our community through initiatives delivered through our Foundation Fund including our nutritious food and safe spaces programme.

These initiatives are making a difference and will continue to play a major role in leading the charge for change for those most vulnerable in BaNES. When the information we have requested is available, the data that we receive and share with you will enable us all to really understand the full extent of the challenge to hand.