Select Committee on Work and Pensions Second Report

5  The impact of poverty upon children

75. There is a wide range of research which highlights the impact of poverty upon children and which shows that growing up in poverty has adverse outcomes for children.[68] The issue of outcomes for children was not explicitly addressed in the inquiry, but was touched upon in some of the written evidence.[69] In their written evidence, CPAG stated:

    "The evidence is clear and compelling: growing up in poverty has adverse consequences for children. The effects are manifested in different ways: on physical health and development; learning and behaviour and emotional well-being. The result is that children are prevented from realising their full potential."[70]

76. This is summed up in Opportunity For All which states: "Today's poverty can translate into tomorrow's poor outcomes."[71] The report goes on to say that unequal life chances for children damages not only the children themselves, but also society as a whole.

Hardship, deprivation and social exclusion

77. As Professor Ruth Lister pointed out, while it is important to examine and to tackle the long-term effects of child poverty, we should also be concerned with the impact of poverty on today's children and on the way in which they experience childhood.[72] One way of looking at this is to examine children's access to necessities, as this gives some idea of the realities of poverty as experienced by children now, rather than in the future. This was comprehensively explored in the Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Survey.[73] The survey was carried out in 1999 and although the results are now a little dated they are still worth examining, as they are very comprehensive. The PSE survey highlighted the extent to which children in poverty lacked necessary items and were unable to participate in social activities. The PSE survey derived a list of 30 'socially perceived necessities' and children were defined as deprived if they lacked one or more necessities because their parents could not afford them. The survey found that 34% of children lacked one or more items and 18% lacked two or more. One in fifty children were found to be without a warm, waterproof coat, daily fresh fruit and vegetables and new, properly fitted shoes. One in ten children who were deemed to be poor because they lacked two or more of the necessary items, did not have a warm coat, daily fresh fruit and vegetables and properly fitted shoes.

78. More recently, a hardship index was constructed using the Family and Children Study (FACS) 2001 based on three aspects of life: family finances, housing conditions and material deprivation. [74] DWP written evidence points out that material well-being of both couple and lone parent families and of working and non-working families improved across all dimensions between 1999 and 2001.[75] In 2002, FACS found that

    "…despite a reported improvement in material well-being for families at the start of the 21st century, in 2002 there were still families that went without items and activities many would regard as necessities." [76]

79. The most common deprivation was in the form of leisure activities such as a one-week holiday and money for trips or outings. Lone parent families were twice as likely as couple families to lack at least one item (81% compared to 40%) and four times as likely to lack 11 or more items (16% compared to 4%). 10% of lone parents could not afford meat or fish every other day, compared to 2% of couples. 40% of lone parent families did not have money for trips, outings and gifts to take to parties, compared to 13% of couple families. Nearly three in five (57%) lone parents were unable to afford a one week holiday away from home, compared to a fifth (21%) of couple families.

80. We heard evidence from Shelter about the impact upon families of homelessness and unmet housing need. Shelter's evidence stated that there are currently:

  • Record numbers of more than 93,000 homeless households in temporary accommodation
  • More than 100,000 children become homeless every year
  • Over 300,000 families with children live in over-crowded housing
  • More than 900,000 families with children live in poor housing

The Committee accepts the argument that conditions such as homelessness and chronic over-crowding significantly impact upon a child's life chances. We agree that a housing needs indicator should be included within the overall measure of child poverty.

Severe and persistent poverty

81. One aspect of child poverty which has so far received little attention is that of the persistence of poverty and the depth or severity of poverty. Recent research conducted by researchers at CRSP, and outlined in the written evidence from Sue Middleton, extensively explores the extent of severe and persistent poverty in Britain.[77] Using the PSE survey, the research highlighted that 8% of children were in severe poverty - that is, both the children and parents were materially deprived and their household income was below 40% of the median. Severely poor children lacked items that were the most highly ranked, such as meat/fish/vegetarian equivalent twice daily (lacked by 31% of severely poor children); fresh fruit and vegetables daily (lacked by 21%); at least seven new pairs of underpants (18%); new properly fitted shoes (17%); and a warm waterproof coat (13%).

82. Using the British Household Panel Survey (1991-99), the CRSP research also shows that 20% of children experienced persistent poverty. That is, they had three out of five years in poverty - none of which was spent in severe poverty. In addition, 9% of children experienced persistent and severe poverty, that is, they were poor for at least three out of five years and had at least one year in severe poverty. Extent of Persistent and Severe Poverty
Poverty Type:
Persistent and Severe (3 or more yrs in poverty, at least 1 yr in severe poverty)
Persistent only (3 or more yrs in poverty, none in severe poverty)
Short-term and Severe (less than 3 yrs in poverty, at least 1 yr in severe poverty)
Short-term only (Less than 3 yrs in poverty, no years in severe poverty)
No poverty (Not in poverty in any year)

83. The CRSP research concludes that there are two distinct groups of children who are more likely to be in persistent and severe poverty. The first, outlined earlier,[78] were children who had experienced income volatility brought about by transitions between the work and benefits status of the household. The second were children whose households were relatively financially stable but bleak, for example, those in long-term workless households.

84. In addition to the PSA target to reduce child poverty by a quarter, Opportunity For All (OFA) contains an indicator on the proportion of children living in persistent poverty. Persistent poverty is defined as living in households with a BHC income of below 60% or 70% of the median in three out of four years. This is different to the definition used in the CRSP research. It also does not include the separate dimension of poverty severity, although relative and absolute poverty are measured using the below 50% median income measure as well as the 60% and 70% measure. The OFA data suggests around one sixth of children were in persistent poverty with very little movement occurring since the 1992-1995 data.

85. The research evidence from CRSP on severe and persistent poverty and the measure of persistent poverty in OFA is unable to show whether there has been a reduction over time. However, looking at another more recent survey source, the FACS hardship index showed that, in 2001, 14% of families were in severe hardship and a further 35% were in moderate hardship in 2001.[79] This compares with 1999 when 26% were in severe hardship and a further 39% were in moderate hardship. As with material deprivation measures, the survey showed improvements for all families, but advancement was less pronounced for non-working families. Family hardship fell as income increased and hardship was more common for lone parent families than for couple families (19% of lone parent families were in severe hardship compared with 7% of couples). Large families were also much more likely to experience hardship than smaller families (21% of families with four or more children were in severe poverty and a further 50% were in moderate poverty compared with 7% and 21% of families with one child).[80]

86. The FACS appears to suggest that reductions in numbers experiencing hardship have occurred in recent years, although this is not the same as a reduction in severe and persistent poverty. Sue Middleton argues :

    "Within the context of target-driven policies, such as the reduction of child poverty by one-quarter by 2004, there is a temptation to focus on those who are easiest to help, that is, those children who are closest to the poverty line and, arguably, easiest to raise above it. Yet if this leaves a group of children behind who are experiencing the most severe poverty, humanitarian concerns would suggest that different policy solutions are required. If child poverty is to be eradicated, it would seem essential to maintain a focus on dealing with children who are facing the most difficult circumstances and to ensure that policy interventions benefit this group."[81]

87. Consequently, she concludes that data on severe and persistent poverty should be collected and published and that the elimination of severe poverty should be incorporated into official targets.[82]

88. In oral evidence, the Secretary of State acknowledged that as progress is made against the child poverty target it will become more difficult to make further progress. He went on:

    "…it is certainly our goal that our policies should give most help to the poorest children and poorest families who need it most and I believe that the measures we are adopting will enable us to analyse and track that and take remedial action where it is necessary."[83]

89. The Government's targetted approach to tackling child poverty, by definition, is aimed at those who are most in need. However, the Committee is concerned that the extent to which this strategy is reaching the very poorest children, as highlighted in the CRSP research, is unclear. We believe that specific measures are needed to tackle poverty for the most deprived children and that further research is needed to ascertain how best to target children in severe and persistent poverty. The Government must not take the easy option of only helping those children out of poverty who are the easiest to reach. The Committee recommends that the national strategy on child poverty develops immediate policy initiatives to assist children in severe and persistent poverty and creates an explicit indicator against which progress can be measured.

Children's perspectives on poverty

90. There is a growing body of research that looks at children's own views and experiences of living in poverty and social exclusion.[84] Acknowledging this, the Department's recent consultation on measuring child poverty included workshop discussions with children and young people. Although the Committee has not directly sought the views of children, the inquiry has received some very useful written evidence highlighting the voices of children in the poverty debate. It has been an extremely valuable addition to the inquiry and the Committee would like to thank all of the organisations and individuals who have carried out this valuable research, which adds a crucial dimension to the poverty debate.

91. Based on her research with children, Dr Tess Ridge stated:

    "…poverty and disadvantage can permeate every aspect of [children's] lives; from the material and more quantifiable aspects of their needs, to the social and emotional requirements of childhood."[85]

92. Dr Ridge's research showed that children in poor families were disadvantaged in a range of ways. For example, they lacked pocket money or any other personal income, which had significant implications, and those who did have personal income used it to pay for necessary things such as bus fares and school items. Children had little access to transport, especially those in rural areas. They were excluded from participating in school activities through financial disadvantage and felt the pressure of social stigma through 'inappropriate' dressing and through receiving free school meals. Research from Save the Children which explored children's experiences of school also found that poor children felt they were missing out and stigmatised because they could not afford the proper school uniform or essential school equipment, they had free school meals and they could not pay for 'extras' such as social activities in school, school trips and books. [86]

93. Barnardo's points out that, "lack of parental income means that poor children are often excluded from the activities that their peers take for granted, resulting in social exclusion."[87] This was illustrated in Sue Middleton's evidence citing her research on severe and persistent poverty which also explored children's experiences of social exclusion from social activities and local services. She found that a quarter of children in severe poverty were excluded from social activities, such as having friends round for tea or a snack once a fortnight, because their parents could not afford it. This compares with 7% of children in non-severe poverty and only 2% of those not in poverty. Just over one in ten (11%) children in severe poverty, 8% of children in non-severe poverty and 5% of children not in poverty were excluded from leisure activities and services which had to be paid for such as youth clubs and play facilities.[88]

94. This research provides a snapshot of children's lives as lived in poverty and social exclusion and highlights the reasons why poverty reduction and, eventually, eradication is so important for children in terms of short-term outcomes as well as in the long-term.

The costs of participation in education

95. The Committee received compelling evidence that children experience further exclusion through the financial costs of participation in school life, which further reduce the family finances.[89] CPAG and Citizen's Advice argued that the financial costs of education include school uniform costs and extra curricular activities, and that these form a very real barrier for children.


96. Research suggests that 13% of all children aged 11 live in a family who said that their child/ren needed a school uniform but could not afford it.[90] A CAB report[91] found that the availability and level of Local Education Authority school clothing grants have declined in real terms since 1990 and that some children had been threatened with exclusion from school because their parents had not been able to afford the correct school uniform. Further research[92] found that 30% of LEAs provided no help at all towards school uniform costs. Only 28% of LEAs offered grants to children of both primary and secondary school age. 41% of these did not offer annual payments and they all operated strict eligibility criteria. In correspondence to the Committee, the Minister for Children stated,

    "…the decision whether to provide grants rests with the individual LEA, and they are free to set their own criteria for eligibility…We do not collect data on the number of LEAs providing grants, but…we issued guidance for teachers, governors and parents in February 2002."[93]

97. In oral evidence, when asked whether LEAs should provide grants for school clothing, the Minister for Children commented, "far be it from me to tell LEAs what to do."[94]  

98. The Committee believes that school clothing grants are essential for low-income families. The Committee recommends that the national strategy should earmark new resources to provide for adequate school clothing for all low-income families and that the Government take appropriate action to enable LEAs to provide school clothing grants.


99. Free school meals play an important role for children in poverty. Children whose parents are on income-related benefits are entitled to free school meals, which, when claimed, can be an important addition to the diet - particularly when there may be no guarantee of regular hot meals at home. Research also points to a link between an adequate healthy diet and educational attainment.[95] However, problems arise when the quality of the free school meal is low and when children do not take up their entitlement.

100. In correspondence to the Committee, the Minister for Children stated that, "we encourage all children to take up their entitlement to free school meals." [96] In oral evidence, she also told us that 1.2 million children in England were eligible for free school meals and that take-up was just under a million.[97] One of the key reasons why children do not take up their free school meal is because of the stigma, particularly if the school does not take measures to ensure that children receiving school meals are not identified by other children.[98] Research by CPAG found that a third of children and two-fifths of parents identified embarrassment or fear of being teased as a key factor which put children off taking up their free school meal.[99] They went on to say:

    "Poverty, where it is 'visible', tends to result in poor children being treated differently from their peers. This is clearly unpleasant and uncomfortable for those children experiencing it. Beyond this it has financial implications through the non-take-up of stigmatising benefits."[100]

101. As with school clothing grants, the duty to provide a free school meal rests with the LEAs. In 2001, the DfES set minimum nutritional standards for school meals and provided guidance on standards. As a result of consultation, food-based standards have now been introduced.[101] The Department is currently conducting a survey to assess whether these standards are being complied with.

102. The Committee recommends that the national strategy on child poverty should ensure nutritionally balanced school meals are available to all low income families in a stigma-free way.

68   Gregg P, Harness S & Machin S (1999) Child development and family income, York: JRF; Ermisch J, Francesconi M & Pevalin D (2001) Outcomes for children of poverty, DWP Research Report No 158, Leeds: CDS; Bradshaw J (ed) (2001) Poverty: the outcomes for children, FPSC/ESRC Back

69   Ev 1, 181, 237 Back

70   Ev 181, para 5 Back

71   DWP, Opportunity For All: Fifth Annual Report 2003, CM5956, September 2003 Back

72   Ev 1 Back

73   Gordon D et al (2000) Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, York: JRF Back

74   Vegeris S & Perry J (2003) Families and children 2001: Living standards and the children, DWP Research Report 190,S Back

75   Ev 225 Back

76   Barnes M et al (2004), Families and Children in Britain: Findings from the 2002 Family and Children Study (FACS).  Back

77   Ev 56 Back

78   See para 35 Back

79   The 2002 FACS did not include updated hardship figures. Back

80   Vegeris S & Perry J (2003) Families and children 2001: Living standards and the children, DWP Research Report 190, Back

81   Ev 59 Back

82   Ev 59 Back

83   Q448 Back

84   Ridge T (2002) Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion: From a child's perspective, Bristol: Policy Press; Willow C, (2001) Bread is free, CRAE and Save the Children; Crowley and Vulliamy (2002) Listen Up! Children and Young People Talk about Poverty, Save the Children Back

85   Ev 239 Back

86   Ev 36-37, Crowley and Vulliamy (2002) Listen Up! Children and Young People Talk about Poverty, Save the Children Back

87   Ev 49 Back

88   Ev 63 Back

89   Ev 184, 198 Back

90   Howard M (2003) Lump Sums: Roles for the Social Fund in Eradicating Child Poverty, OPFs/CPAG/FWA Back

91   CAB (2001) Uniform failure Back

92   Help with School Clothing Costs: CAB briefing, NACAB, August 2002 Back

93   Ev 175 (Vol III) Back

94   Q437 Back

95   Ev 184 Back

96   Ev 175 (vol III) Back

97   Q426 Back

98   Ev 185, 238 Back

99   Ev 185 Back

100   Ev 185 Back

101   Ev 175 (vol III) Back

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