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’s the state of child poverty in London?  

Unfortunately, the number of children in poverty across London is extremely high.  The latest figures from 2021/22 show that London has a child poverty rate of 32.9% according to End Child Poverty Coalition. We expect this to increase when the current year’s figures are released. Experiencing poverty can mean children are only able to afford cheap, unhealthy food. It might mean they skip washing their clothes, bathing and brushing their teeth. It can result in anxiety and isolation, aggressive or regressive behaviour. Being trapped in poverty can lead to a stressful environment at home, where children feel like they need to take on adult responsibilities to help out. While all these things can be true for any child of any household income, the likelihood of overlapping challenges or examples of ‘going without’ can be much greater when a child is in poverty. Parents can be doing the best they can with what they’ve got, but they can’t absorb all of the trauma that impacts them and their families.  

How do we respond to child poverty? 

The government prioritises helping families get into work. This can be one valuable, effective way to help families in poverty. However, it’s important that context is considered. For one, balancing children’s needs with a work schedule is very difficult. So, for single-parent families flexible, adequate work is crucial. In addition, some parents can’t work because either they or their child is disabled and therefore more support is needed that looks different than paid work. Also, illness needs to be considered as some adults can’t work because they are dealing with an acute illness. Therefore, as a society, we have to think about helping families get support and money in their pockets and community connections that look beyond the paid work route out of poverty.  

At 4in10, we talk about supporting organisations who work to end poverty or mitigate its impact. To end child poverty would be to ensure that families have the income they need to cover the essentials. This can look like a robust social security which puts money back into the pockets of families, it can also look like higher pay which increases the incoming funds on a regular basis and it can also take the form of organisational tax breaks or social investment in services so that more support is freely available which reduces the need to ‘buy in’ to participate in local communal activities and opportunities. 

In terms of mitigation of the effects of child poverty, again, some specific considerations help draw out this point. Children know when they don’t have as much as others. Children are experts in observation, they learn from seeing and doing and so they know when things are different. When it comes to household finances, they may not know the details or understand the specific issues, but children are capable of knowing when they have less or shouldn’t ask for more. As part of communities all across London, we can help nurture belonging and fairness by making it easy to share resources, reduce additional expenses at school and offer out-of–school activities that are free of charge and sustainably developed and delivered. By making it less about what you can buy and more about where we can belong, the organisations such as youth clubs, art groups, theatres, community organisations, schools and many other community-led programmes help children access support and meaningful relationships with those local to them. This can create a buffer between children and the impact of poverty on their wellbeing. These kinds of services will always be important, even if child poverty disappeared from London. Their existence helps offer important outreach to children and their families. It’s important that these organisations can focus on what they do best, but the current system demands them to follow the money in terms of endless cycles of grant submissions, reporting and project adaptation to keep the budgets balanced. This makes losers out of all of us. Funding can and should be sustainable.  

There are steps that all of us can take in our organisations and as individuals to help advocate and implement change. In our Manifesto for a child poverty free London, we outline four key areas that would help reduce child poverty across London. Income, housing, childcare and hunger. These four areas impact us all and in different ways, individuals, businesses, local, regional and national government can help contribute to make the situation better for children. This is not about attributing blame on any one group, but about community-centred and multi-faceted responses to helping improve the lives of children and challenging inequalities when and where we see them.