Memorandum submitted by ATD Fourth World
ATD Fourth World is a Human Rights organisation
taking a holistic approach to poverty eradication. We believe
that only by working in partnership with families experiencing
poverty and social exclusion can real and effective change occur
in the lives of the most disadvantaged.
This submission brings to the fore the voice
and experience of children and parents living in long-term poverty.
It gives an overview of the main effects of child poverty on the
family. The main issues that emerge are:
Povertythe links with children
in care: The high number of children from families suffering poverty
and social exclusion who are taken into local authority care because
of concerns around neglect, where the parents cannot meet the
physical and emotional needs of their children. It is absolutely
necessary to provide good quality, non-judgemental family support
services. Removing into care the children of the poorest families
does not guarantee a better future for the children.
Employmenta means to reduce
the poverty of children?: For work to be a route out of poverty
for families who have many problems and disadvantages, there has
to be adequate support in all aspects of their daily lives and
opportunities for education, training, upgrading of skills and
promotion. Punitive measures to force adults into work and low
benefit levels often sabotage the Government's own initiatives
to promote the welfare of children as part of their aim to reduce
Benefit Levelsnot enough to
live on: Access to benefits does not alleviate poverty, as benefit
levels are so low. Out of work benefit levels are, for most people,
inadequate for a healthy and dignified life.
Childrenunder 18s: Many parents
have expressed their feelings that once their children turn 16,
they are not seen as children. They are expected to become adults
overnight yet are not paid at the level of adults. This feeling
of despondency when looking towards the future is a major factor
in high truancy rates among teenagers from a background of poverty.
ATD Fourth World has an international mission
to work, in each community where we have a presence, with those
who experience persistent, intergenerational poverty, who are
excluded from exercising their human rights and from meeting their
obligations to society. Presence in 28 countries, across all continents,
gives ATD Fourth World an international perspective on issues
of poverty and human rights, as well as a UK one. Our aim is to
empower people to be able to access their rights in order to be
able to meet their responsibilities and to contribute to their
families, communities and society as a whole.
ATD Fourth World has been working in the UK
since 1963, mainly with individuals and families from London and
the South East. We have our headquarters in Camberwell, South
London. We have a large house in Surrey, Frimhurst, where families
can have respite time, parents can have contact visits with their
children who are in the care of local authorities and all can
take part in workshops encouraging them to develop new skills
and explore their artistic talents. There is a small team working
in Hull and we retain contact with many families who have left
London to live in other parts of the UK. We also work in close
partnership with the Glasgow-Braendam Link, an organization working
closely to favour the participation of very excluded Scottish
families in policy making. As an international NGO, we have ongoing
contact with many other international teams. This offers opportunities
for families to meet with people experiencing poverty in other
countries and to contribute to international conferences and debates.
As part of our ongoing policy and participation
projects, parents, carers, children and young people from ATD
Fourth World have made contributions to the work of the All Party
Parliamentary Group on Poverty, (APPG), held monthly in the House
of Commons as well as responding to government consultations.
At one consultation on child poverty, held in Liverpool, one participant
commented on the absence of children in the hall. "Consulting
with the parents does not necessarily mean that you hear the experiences,
voice or views of their children."
A 16-year-old, discussing the Government's aims
to end child poverty said, "They say what they think child
poverty is and how to measure it, then they come to consult us.
They should come to us first, we are the ones who have lived it."
Child poverty does not exist in a vacuum. It
is a symptom of the poverty and social exclusion experienced by
millions of families in our country today. This submission is
based on the ongoing work that brings together people currently
living in poverty, and others who work alongside them, to enable
them to have a voice on issues of importance to them.
"If I could afford a proper solicitor,
a good one that stuck with us right the way through the case,
they couldn't have taken my kids off me." Mother of children
Living in a family that faces poverty every
day has huge implications for the children. The most serious of
these is the high number of children from families suffering poverty
and social exclusion who are taken into local authority care because
of concerns around neglect, where the parents cannot meet the
physical and emotional needs of their children. Poverty remains
the key indicator associated with children becoming "looked
after" by local authorities. Bebbington and Miles (1989)
graphically illustrated the links between poverty and children
coming into the care system by demonstrating that children living
in poverty are 700 times more likely to become "looked after."
This is especially true of children of mixed heritage, from lone-parent
families and the children of parents who themselves were raised
One indicator of the success of the Government's
measures to eradicate child poverty and prevent social exclusion
should be a reduction in the number of children taken into care
due to circumstances aggravated by the poverty of the whole family.
This is completely missing from the Government's National Action
Plan on Social Inclusion, which ATD Fourth World considers a serious
omission and a lost opportunity.
"Two solicitors told us that it's not worth
fighting social services because they always win, but this is
my family I am fighting for." Father of children in care.
At present there is a lack of appropriate and
adequate family support being provided as an anti-poverty initiative.
This, despite research findings showing that although most "looked
after" children (70%) will eventually return home, a great
deal of damage is done by removal from the family, negative care
experiences and poor outcomes in terms of life-chances for children
from care. The deeper the poverty and social exclusion suffered
by the parents, the harder it is for them to meet the criteria
to have their children returned home and the longer the children
stay in care.
"What I could or could not provide for
my son was used against me in the care system; my son was taken
from me. With my son's weight problem I was expected to buy diet
food and special food and fruit and vegetables on a very low income,
to the detriment of my other son's welfare." Mother of four
with one child in care.
To break the cycle of intergenerational poverty
and disadvantage experienced by a minority of families, it is
absolutely necessary to provide good quality, non-judgemental
family support services. Removing into care the children of the
poorest families does not guarantee a better future for the children.
Family support should be a proactive approach. Current social
work practice often consists of not much more than a reaction
to crisis that can result in an inappropriate child protection
"I know if my mum was rich they would never
dare to try to take us off her, but we were poor so they did."
Young person who had experienced childhood in care.
It is non-effective trying to fit parents into
existing services that they may not need. The provision of preventative
services should be led by the needs of the family based on their
self-assessment. This will need funding and involve training.
Currently, ATD Fourth World is involved with Family Rights Group;
Royal Holloway, University of London, the University of Luton
and social work professionals to involve users of Children and
Family social services in the training of student social workers.
The aim is to make clear the link between poverty and care, and
to improve practice.
"The hardest aspect of many years of working
with families who live in poverty is the disproportionate number
who have their children taken from them and placed in the care
of local authorities, not because of actual harm or abuse but
because their parents are so poor that they cannot provide for
them. It is a silent scandal that no one wants to know about."
An ATD Fourth World full time volunteer.
Unfortunately, bad press, bad practice and word
of mouth, has created in some families a deep fear of social services
that prevents them from asking for help at an early stage. Those
who do ask for help are often assessed as having needs, but no
services are offered due to lack of resources. This leaves these
very vulnerable families in a fragile state, needing support but
afraid of being identified as having children who are "At
Risk." Only when the situation breaks down, or a professional
such as a teacher makes a referral, is any action taken and that
often leads to children being removed. This fear of families living
in long-term poverty of approaching the services, voluntary and
statutory, available to them, should not be under-estimated. Many
feel that using even voluntary services will make them known to
social services and will increase the risk of losing their children
"One young mother told ATD Fourth World
that she was unwilling to become involved in local services as
they were `spies from social services'. The fact that this is
untrue isn't important. What it shows is the deep rooted fear
of families experiencing poverty of having their children taken
into local authority care." ATD Fourth World family member
at APPG on Poverty with Secretary of State, Andrew Smith.
There have been some real positive changes made.
Sure Start offers a real chance for young parents to receive the
support they need for their children to have the best chance in
life. ATD Fourth World is applauds Sure Start's recognition that
it is having difficulty reaching the most excluded and, consequently,
most needy families. ATD Fourth World is currently in the planning
stages of a joint project with a local Sure Start group in South
London to run a project specifically designed to meet the families
in greatest need.
Supporting families to keep their children at
home is a long-term and visionary initiative that will not only
reduce child poverty now, but in the future too. It is a cost
effective measure, given the figures showing that adults who have
been through the care system (as children) are more likely to
have limited education, poor general health, mental health problems,
become homeless, be imprisoned, have children young and have their
children taken into care.
"We recently met with a 19 year old girl,
adopted against her mother's wishes when she was nine. She knew
we had worked with her mum and wanted to meet her. How do you
tell this girl that her mum ended up dying on the streets mourning
the loss of her children?" An ATD Fourth World full time
One mother described her history of care as
a, "life sentence," raised for discussion every time
she asked for help. A father told us how the attitude of social
workers would change when they realised he had been in care as
a child, "I went from being a parent with problems to being
a problem parent." This cannot be allowed to continue into
another generation, it destroys families and perpetuates poverty.
"It is too late for me, but anything I
do now is for the children. They are the future and it has to
be better for them." Parent, at an ATD Fourth World policy
forum on education.
Currently the Government is promoting paid employment
as the only real way out of poverty. The experiences of the families
we work with indicates that this is not so. Low minimum wage levels,
and the absence of a minimum wage for under 18-year-olds, have
created a high level of family stress. Parents are often forced
to work extremely long hours in low paid, low status jobs to the
detriment of their health and family life. This type of work does
not enable them to move into education or training, to aspire
to higher paid/better quality work, to move away from areas of
high disadvantage or to seek a better environment for their children.
Years and years of such jobs can, in the words of one 50-year-old
man, "cement us all into one place forever."
For work to be a route out of poverty for families
who have many problems and disadvantages, there has to be adequate
support in all aspects of their daily lives and opportunities
for education, training, upgrading of skills and promotion. Children
benefit from seeing their parents and carers feeling positive
about their work and future. It encourages children and young
people to see work as an opportunity. When parents are in a constant
state of stress, under threat of losing their job or the removal
of benefits if they refuse a job, children are sensitive to this
and suffer considerably.
This was demonstrated when a man who was trying
to find work on the New Deal, who was feeling ill with worry,
said that he had to get something quickly because his children
needed so much all at once. On hearing this, his teenaged daughter
burst into tears and apologised for putting stress on him. He
was very upset, as he had not meant his statement to be a criticism
of his children, yet his daughter obviously internalised responsibility
for his state of stress and worry. He felt strongly that it was
the constant pressure to get a job and the inadequate level of
benefits that were making him ill.
"I would love to work but who's going to
take me on, a single-mother with two young children and no family
to help me with childcare and no money to find play schemes in
the summer holidays?"
Helping lone parents to access work and training
is a positive step forward but it must not become a compulsory
measure. Some parents feel it is their responsibility for the
well-being of their children to stay at home to raise them and
should not be denied that right. Parents, particularly lone parents,
should not be forced to make a chose between their responsibilities
to their children and their responsibility as a working-age adult.
If women who have money stay at home, they are
being good mothers. When I stay at home I am called a lazy scrounger.
If I leave my children with others while I go to work, and they
get into trouble, I am a bad mother. If I stay with them and keep
them out of trouble, I am still a lazy scrounger. If my children
have problems while they are with me, it is bad parenting. If
children in care have problems, it is lack of resources. "People
like me can't win." Mother living on benefits.
Punitive measures to force adults into work
and low benefit levels often sabotage the Government's own initiatives
to promote the welfare of children as part of their aim to reduce
child poverty. Children and young people are very aware of the
world around them, and of the circumstances they and their friends
live in. During the preparation for one APPG on poverty, a young
girl said that she was glad that her mum was so disabled, "All
the stuff they are putting people we know through, that would
kill my mum." The level of her mother's disability exempted
her from job seeking and allowed her to access Income Support
and disability benefits, much to her daughter's relief.
Another example is that of a grandmother who
was the carer of her disabled husband and also looked after her
three grandchildren while their mothers worked. On the death of
her husband she was transferred from Income Support to Job Seekers
Allowance. This meant that she had to be actively seeking work
and could no longer care for the children, whose mothers had to
give up work to look for childcare in an area where it is in great
demand. Instead of having one person on benefits, two people working
and three happy children, all are now on benefits. In fact, the
children suffer most in this case, as they loved the time spent
with their grandmother and their mothers are more stressed and
have less money.
If the Government is serious about making work
pay, then it must listen to the experiences of those in low-paid
work and offer a "better off in work guarantee". Under
the Working Family Tax Credit, many parents felt that they were
worse off in work to the detriment of their family. With the new
Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and new housing benefit
rules for those returning to work, there is the opportunity to
make this guarantee which was mentioned as a possibility by the
Secretary of State, Andrew Smith, at the All Party Parliamentary
Group on Poverty on 6 March 2003.
4. BENEFIT LEVELSNOT
We know though that access to benefits does
not alleviate poverty, as benefit levels are so low. Out of work
benefit levels are, for most people, inadequate for a healthy
and dignified life. The submission to this Committee from Zacchaeus
2000 Trust looks at this issue in length.
"You can't live on benefits with little
ones, you just survive. When your two-year-old is hungry, how
do you explain that you have no money left? He can't understand.
This isn't living, it's waiting to die." Mother living on
While we welcome the payment of Child Benefit
directly to the main carer, this does not address the fact that
Child Benefituniversally an additional income to all working
parentsis deducted at source from the income of those on
means tested benefits. ATD Fourth World acknowledges that raising
benefits, and making Child Benefit disregarded as income will
have spending and budgetary implications, but this should not
be a deterrent to tacking child poverty in a fair and just way
through the benefits system.
"I do not know what choice is and what
it is like to walk in a shop and get what I need." Mother
of three on benefits.
One cause of child poverty is the lack of knowledge
of what you are entitled to and poor advice given by frontline
workers. Of families known to ATD Fourth World, not one has applied
for the Child Tax Credit although they are entitled to it. Internet
applications maybe efficient but are hardly accessible to people
who do not have a telephone, let alone a computer. The removal
of the benefits book with direct payments of benefits into bank
accounts has meant that many people have had difficulty obtaining
the free health care they are entitled to, particularly dental
and eye care. Telephone advice given by the DWP instructs people
to take bank statements as proof they receive benefits but in
practice professionals have not accepted this as sufficient proof.
"I was in poverty because my whole family
was in poverty. You can't change poverty for the kids unless you
change it for the whole family." 15 year-old boy.
The emphasis on eradicating child poverty in
a generation is praised by families living in long-term poverty.
What families that ATD Fourth World meets fear is that this is
in detriment to eradicating family poverty, or is used as a stick
to bash so called irresponsible parents. In addition parents have
expressed their feelings that once their children turn 16, they
are not seen as children. They are expected to become adults overnight
yet are not paid at the level of adults. One parent reported that
her daughter had learning problems so she left school and could
not go to college. She didn't qualify for JSA because of her age
and the only job she was offered was at £1.20 an hour under
the counter. The mother commented, "Hardly surprising that
we have such high teen-age pregnancy rates, is it?"
It is not just pregnancy that is rife among
young people in poverty; depression and suicidal feelings are
issues for them too.
"Drug overdose and cut wrists, paracetamol
and alcohol, I have already lost four close friends that way.
It makes the rest of us wonder, who's next?" 17 year-old
This feeling of despondency when looking towards
the future is a major factor in high truancy rates among teenagers
from a background of poverty. The "school experience"
for these children has been marred by bullying and low expectation,
preventing them from thriving and reaching their potential. For
parents on a low income, it is often impossible to send their
children on school trips or join after school clubs where some
payment is involved.
"The trips are real expensive and we haven't
got the money so I don't tell my Mum. I bin the letters, she doesn't
need the stress." Secondary school student.
Many parents have reported that local authorities
often arbitrarily give school uniform grants. Peer pressure also
contributes to poor performance and attendance. Not having the
same clothes or being in the queue for free-school meals are just
some of the contributing factors.
"My sons have school photographs taken
of them but I cannot buy them. It upsets them." Mother on
benefits of three teenage boys.
"Opportunities for all is only theory;
give us a role with decision makers so we can have responsibility
back for our lives." ATD Fourth World policy forum participant.
Having the opportunity to be heard when you
are a child or a parent in poverty is an important step in feeling
included rather than excluded. Having a place to meet, to think
together and to gain the confidence to speak is an important part
of fighting poverty, but it is not enough to be able to speak.
There must be people to listen and learnteachers, social
workers, police, up to politicians, policy makersand the
views expressed must be valued and acted on.
"We need people to listen to us, we need
hope." 16 year-old girl.
Of course, there are many other issues that
affect children and families and lead to their becoming excluded
from the mainstream of society, such as racism, gender discrimination,
old age, and disability, to mention but a few. What unifies all
of the major single-issue groups in our society is that the more
extreme your situation, the more likely you are to become a poverty
statistic. The advantage of having systems to communicate with
government, such as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty
and Select Committees, is that they redress this by allowing people
to meet face to face on a human level.
Rev Paul Nicolson
11 September 2003