Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by NSPCC (CP 14)


  The NSPCC is the UK's leading charity specialising in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children. We serve some of the poorest communities in the UK and some of the most excluded children.

  The NSPCC exists to end cruelty to children through a range of activities designed to:

    —  help children who have suffered abuse overcome the effects of such harm;

    —  prevent children from suffering abuse;

    —  prevent children from suffering significant harm as a result of ill-treatment;

    —  help children who are at risk of such harm; and

    —  work to protect children from further harm.

  Poverty is a key risk factor which increases the vulnerability of families to stress and makes the possibility of physical abuse and neglect more likely. That is why NSPCC is determined that there must be national action to end child poverty.

  Child cruelty will not be eradicated unless child poverty is ended. Child abuse is a key risk factor that increases the likelihood of poverty and disadvantage in later life. The NSPCC welcomes the Government's pledge to end child poverty within a generation, and the lifting of half a million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2003. Nonetheless, 3.8 million children, a quarter of all children, remain in poverty, and are going without basics such as warm winter coats and properly fitting shoes.

  The harmful effects of poverty on children are well documented. There is an established association between poverty and prenatal and infant mortality, malnutrition and ill-health, child accidents, low educational attainment, delinquency and teenage pregnancy. This disadvantage is very often reinforced across generations. Black and minority ethnic children are particularly disadvantaged and are disproportionately represented in the poorest fifth of the UK population.

  Poverty is closely related with social exclusion—that is, it excludes people from the opportunities available to the average citizen in areas such as health, education, employment and housing.

  Poverty is also associated with physical abuse and neglect, although the association between poverty and child abuse is not a simple matter of cause and effect. Child abuse occurs across all classes and its actual causes are complex. Nevertheless, most children on child protection registers are from low-income families and the most commonly identified stress factors in all registered cases of child abuse are unemployment and debt, which are closely related to poverty.[154]

  The pressures involved in coping with inadequate income cause stress, which can exacerbate the health problems associated with poor diet, inadequate heating and poor housing. Such pressures also increase the likelihood of family tension and breakdown. In such circumstances, emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect are more likely. Child abuse rates tend to be higher in deprived neighbourhoods, where poverty is concentrated, support services are inadequate and social exclusion is marked.

  Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as a minimum acceptable way of life to which every child is entitled: a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Despite some advances in recent years, the UK is some way from securing that entitlement for all children.


  The NSPCC has worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions on the measurement of poverty, and responded to the Department's consultation on the measurement of child poverty. The NSPCC's primary concern is for a clear, simple measure that is easily understood and readily understood by all. This is vital in order to raise awareness of child poverty and secure public commitment to investing in tackling child poverty.

  More specifically, a measure of child poverty should be based on income since not having enough money is at the heart of child poverty. This should be a measure of both relative income, in order to reflect that poverty is about children not having what other children have, and of absolute income, since poverty is also about not having basics. But it should also include a measure of how long children have been in poverty, since the persistence of poverty is indicative of the effect it will have on a child's life. It is also important to measure the depth of poverty, which is whether the children are living in poverty are near to the poverty line or far below it.

  So to summarise, a long-term measure of child poverty should include:

    —  Relative income.

    —  Absolute poverty.

    —  Persistence of poverty.

    —  Depth of poverty—inequality.

  The measure should also seek to capture the less easily measured aspects of a child's experience of poverty, or at least cross-reference to the Children and Young People's Unit Indicators. These would include the effects of being poor, such as reduced expectations, learning to be poor, loss of opportunity, poverty of hope, feeling excluded as well as more general measures of wellbeing. It is important to measure these aspects because they relate to outcomes rather than outputs such as health, education and parenting support.

  If we are truly seeking to measure child poverty and not just to measure what is readily measured, or what government is able to do to end child poverty, we also need to think about measuring what other parts of society can do to end child poverty. This should include the role of business, which could capture work-life balance issues for low paid workers, and their impact on children, and the role of unions, the media, and faith communities.

   Finally, in measuring child poverty we should not only set a poverty line but also a minimum income threshold below which no child should fall. This would be based on the basic minimum income necessary to maintain the health and wellbeing of children, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was one of the calls in the Children's Manifesto[155], produced by NSPCC, Barnardos and CPAG and signed up to by over 80 voluntary organisations.


  The Government has made a considerable impact on child poverty through changes to the tax and benefits system and through locally based programmes such as Sure Start and Children's Fund. As partners in delivering Sure Start in over 20 communities and Children's Fund in 10 we see the difference these programmes make in turning round the lives of children and their families. However these programmes only reach a proportion of the 3.8 million children living in poverty. The Government's work needs to be joined up in a National Strategy for tackling child poverty, financial support through the tax and benefits system needs to be increased, and finally government needs to tackle the effects of poverty on children through building emotional capital.


  The Government should introduce an improved system of financial support for all children and young people. This should include:

    —  an established minimum income standard necessary to maintain the health and well-being of children as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;

    —  an end to discrimination against young people in the benefits system;

    —  reform of the Social Fund to give families access to grants to pay for essentials like beds and cookers and to alleviate the problems created by debt;

    —  an increase in maternity and paternity benefits and in paid parental leave;

    —  an increase in Child Tax Credits by £3 per week, which is necessary to guarantee meeting the Government's commitment to reduce child poverty by 25% by 2004, as estimated by the Institute of Fiscal Studies;[156] and

    —  to provide extra support for large families, and to meet the extra essential costs of disability equal treatment of refugee and asylum seeking families in the benefits system.

  Children's voices are easily lost in the allocation of public spending. If we are to redress the situation where one in four children in our country live in poverty, we need to commit public resources to this end.

  Social Fund—The NSPCC strongly agrees with the Social Security Select Committee in its Third Report on the Social Fund in 2001, which concluded that "the scheme in its present format needs urgent overhaul and an injection of funds. Without such action, there is a strong possibility that the wider social policy objectives of the Government will be endangered"[157].

  Reform of the Social Fund is central to a strategy for ending child poverty. Consequently, the NSPCC would argue for an increase in grants, rather than loans that plunge families into a spiral of debt, and greater flexibility around the repayment of loans. In order to target children specifically, our recommendations to government include:

    —  Fixed stage payments at key stages of a child's development, such as when they start primary school.

    —  An increase in the discretionary Social Fund to provide grants to meet additional costs incurred for children at crisis points when they are particularly vulnerable, such as when they move house in the aftermath of domestic violence.

    —  Winter Fuel payments for families with pre-school children, just like those received by pensioners.

  Refugee and asylum seeking families—Levels of financial support to refugee and asylum seeking children and families are lower than granted to income support claimants. It is difficult to see why they should receive a lower level of support, since refugee children and their families have the same basic daily living needs as other UK residents. The NSPCC is concerned that asylum-seeking families are receiving grossly inadequate subsistence support and believes that there should be equal entitlement to benefits. Furthermore, asylum-seeking families are denied access to key passported benefits, such as milk tokens, free vitamins, Social Fund grants and loans.


  In order to reduce and eradicate child poverty, covering its responsibility to UK children in all jurisdictions, the Government should ensure a continuing commitment to the reduction and eradication of child poverty and produce a coherent national strategy to deliver this commitment. A National Strategy should describe how government intends to deliver on the Prime Minister's pledge to end child poverty within a generation. This would increase the accountability of government on its poverty pledge.

  The Government has made significant progress in tackling child poverty, with a range of initiatives such as Sure Start and the Children's Fund as well as through changes to the tax and benefits system. However, a National Strategy would help to:

    —  ensure that all relevant government departments are working systematically towards the pledge to end child poverty with a strategic approach, and with the explicit backing of the Cabinet, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister;

    —  outline the Government's medium to long-term policies and key milestones in relation to the eradication of child poverty;

    —  bring together in one document, preventative and ameliorative policies, across government, which aim to improve outcomes for children living in poverty; including how to get support to the hardest to reach children, such as disabled children and homeless children; and

    —  identify the roles to be played by other agencies (for example, local government, social services) in ending child poverty.

  Accountability—A National Strategy on Child Poverty would provide a clear route map of what government is seeking to achieve. It would provide parameters by which to judge it. The strategy would also increase the accountability of government on its poverty pledge to Parliament and to children, young people and families living in poverty.

  The NSPCC also recommends independent monitoring arrangements for the strategy's implementation. This could be part of the new structural arrangements for overseeing services for children at national level emerging from proposals in the forthcoming Green Paper on children at risk.

  A pledge for all children in the UK—The Prime Minister's pledge to end child poverty applies to all the nations of the UK. A National Strategy would help to bring together policies across the four nations and ensure child poverty is addressed throughout the UK, whilst acknowledging the different constitutional arrangements. The Strategy would enable the UK to meet its commitment.


  Social exclusion is caused by multiple factors and will have diverse impacts on individuals and communities. Reducing material deprivation combats some of these elements and area-based initiatives may enable a community to develop social capital. However, such interventions often fail to reach those most in need. They also fail to tackle the residual emotional or psychological effects of poverty and social exclusion. The residual effects may prevent children and young people developing social capital or human capital, ie educationally.

  NSPCC services work with children and young people to prevent or overcome the effects of abuse and neglect. Much of this work is focused on building resilience, which fits with the current understanding of vulnerability and the ecological approach to child development. Building resilience includes a number of elements but involves improving self-esteem, self-efficacy, and developing a repertoire of social problem solving approaches.[158] Improved resilience is instrumental in overcoming abuse and the feeling of isolation and exclusion which can result from it.

  From a livelihood's perspective, this work can also be seen as adding to a "portfolio of capital". By increasing a child or young person's "emotional capital", NSPCC services are enabling children and young people to develop skills which will help them combat social exclusion in the present and poverty during later life.

  Similar interventions may be very useful in helping other children who are feeling socially excluded or isolated due to poverty. Improved resilience or emotional capital would enable children and young people to develop good relationships with a wide range of their peers and adults, thus adding to their social capital. Building emotional capital is likely to improve school performance and therefore educational attainments, which in turn are likely to result in higher financial capital later in life and reduce vulnerability to poverty. While all types of "capital" are important, building emotional capital is likely to be particularly critical for combating intergenerational nature of poverty and social exclusion.

Natalie Cronin

10 September 2003

154   Cawson, P, Wattam, C, Brooker, S, and Kelly, G (2000) Child Maltreatment in the United Kingdom: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, London: NSPCC. Back

155   Barnardos/CPAG/NSPCC, Our Children, Their Future, 2000. Back

156   Goodman, A, Brewer, M, Shepard, A (2003) Has Child Poverty changed under the Labour Government? An Update, Institute for Fiscal Studies, London. Back

157   Social Security Committee Third Report (2001) The Social Fund. The Stationery Office. Back

158   Rutter, M (1985) "Resilience in the face of adversity: Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder, British Journal of Psychiatry 147: 598-611. Back

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