Our Research and Learning Officer, Emily, discusses three questions on the issue of child poverty in London. This piece is split across three blog posts:  

What is child poverty?

The very fact that children experience poverty across London reflects the failings of British society to support its youngest members. Children are experiencing poverty because their guardians don’t have enough resource to meet their basic needs. Despite their care givers’ best efforts to protect them, children in poverty can experience the stress and insecurity that stems from not having enough to meet essential needs and some children even take on the practical or emotional responsibility to help alleviate some of the worries of the adults in their household.  Children don’t choose poverty. And they can’t choose to end it. They rely on adults in their community, both local and national to make the changes necessary to ensure they, as children, get what they need.  

Relative poverty is defined as a household income that is 60% below the median income. While children are in poverty across the country, they may not experience it in the same way. In London, housing costs and childcare costs mean that children in London are more likely to live in unsuitable accommodation and fewer access early years education whereas in other parts of the country, the challenges may be high travel costs or their adult carers experiencing difficulty finding work.  

What causes it?  

The simple reason for what causes poverty is that household income isn’t enough and is far below the average of many other households. The much more complicated answer is that inadequate income can be the result of an inability to work, poor health, disability, discrimination or unexpected change of circumstances or a combination of challenges that lead to income insecurity. Where it gets really complicated is that accessing adequate income is not a case of simply trying to secure more work because often suitable, paid work is not accessible, for example because of prohibitive childcare costs. This is where narratives around personal responsibility and shame can take root and spring life to inaccurate descriptions as to why some people have enough and others don’t.  

Child poverty is caused by both indirect and direct policy decisions related to children. For example, financial budget reductions for schools, youth services and community organisations mean that children are cut off from the services meant to serve them specifically and in turn it’s only those who can afford to pay for those same services that get the high quality opportunities that help shape children’s present experiences to lead to privileged future opportunities. In addition, policies that impact wages, housing and service provision across the country mean that adults can’t access the jobs and support they need, which has a knock-on effect for children. In combination, these circumstances exacerbate inequality making a greater divide between those who can afford to pay extra and those who can’t afford the essentials.  

What makes child poverty different? 

One of the worst parts of child poverty is that it hurts people at a crucial time in their lives when poverty is integrated into their physiological systems. When their bodies and minds are developing rapidly, and their emotional regulation is dynamically maturing, the trauma that poverty inflicts has a lasting impact. While adults might feel the burden of responsibility, they also have more political influence as voters. Children do not. They can’t work, they can’t vote and they can’t always access the people with power and influence to change. So, they are made to wait and struggle.