Living in poverty 'increases risk of childhood trauma'

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The extent of rising child poverty rates in England has been laid bare in a new report warning that children living in the country’s poorest areas are more likely to suffer from abuse and poor mental health.

Spending on children's and young people's services fell five times faster in deprived areas. Picture: Adobe Stock
Spending on children's and young people's services fell five times faster in deprived areas. Picture: Adobe Stock

Around four million children are now living in poverty, more than at any time over the last decade, according to a report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, one of the country's leading experts on health inequalities.

Health Equity: The Marmot Review 10 years on comes a decade after Marmot first published data highlighting the growing poverty gap in England.

“Poverty experienced during childhood harms health at the time and throughout the rest of life. 

“Child poverty is not an inevitability, but largely the result of political and policy choices in areas including social protection, taxation rates, housing and income and minimum wage policies,” the report states.

One in five children (22 per cent) in England were living in poverty before housing costs were taken into account in 2017/18, Marmot says.

This increased to 30 per cent when housing costs were considered, he adds.

The report states that a “clear impact” of living in poverty is the likelihood of experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including abuse and neglect, living in a household where there is domestic violence, drug or alcohol misuse, mental ill health, criminality, or separation and living in care.

Children from deprived areas, looked-after children and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or mental health issues are also more likely to be excluded from school, Marmot finds.

“Exclusion is associated with a range of harmful short-term impacts and long-term impacts that can endure throughout life, and should be given more attention by all those concerned with public health and health inequalities,” he says.

The report also notes a growing gap in funding for children and young people’s services between poorer and more affluent areas. 

“Spending on children and young people’s services has fallen almost five times faster than in the least deprived local authorities”, it states.

The report notes a £3bn government spending cut on services across England since 2010 and adds spending on Sure Start children’s centres had decreased from £1.8bn in 2010 to £600m in 2017/18.

These closures are likely to have had a “significant impact” on disadvantaged families who benefited most from the children’s centres, the report states.

Recommendations made in the report include calling on the government:

  • Invest in preventative services to reduce exclusions and support schools to stop off-rolling pupils.
  • Increase levels of spending on early years and ensure allocation of funding is proportionately higher for more deprived areas. 
  • Reduce levels of child poverty to 10 percent – level with the lowest rates in Europe. 
  • Improve availability and quality of early years services, including children’s centres, in all regions of England. 

Responding to the report, Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “This landmark report delivers a devastating judgment on a decade of crippling cuts to lifeline services like Sure Start and benefits for families fighting to keep their heads above water.

“While politicians hail the end of austerity, every day at Action for Children our frontline services tell us child poverty levels are at the worst they can remember with parents coming to us desperate for help to keep their families warm and well fed.

“It’s long past time for the government to deliver ambitious policies to tackle child poverty and restore the real value of children’s benefits to what they were before they were cut – as well as bring in a National Childhood Strategy to give all vulnerable children a safe and happy childhood.”

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