Memorandum submitted by the Department
of Social and Policy Sciences (CP 32)
"Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion:
From a Child's Perspective"
I. Research and consultation with children
living in poverty can provide valuable insight and understanding
into how children experience poverty in childhood. Without an
informed awareness of the economic and social pressures that poor
and disadvantaged children experience in their everyday lives,
policies directed towards the alleviation of child poverty and
social exclusion run the risk of failing to respond adequately
to those children's needs.
II. One such study was based on interviews
with 40 children and young people (aged 10 to 17) living in families
who had been in receipt of Income Support for at least six months.
This memorandum summarises key findings from that research.
III. The children interviewed in the study
had limited experience of managing money and little access to
their own autonomous resources. Those who did receive pocket money
used it to pay for essential items like school equipment, clothing
and bus fares.
IV. Children without access to pocket money
were likely to be working. They considered that income earned
from work was vital for their own autonomy and security. But children's
wages also played an important role in household economies. Children
were aware of the negative impact employment could have on their
school and social lives.
V. Access to adequate and affordable transport
was a key issue for children. Many lived in families without private
transport, especially children in lone-parent families. Children
in rural areas without adequate transport suffered social and
spatial isolation. Children in large families were also particularly
disadvantaged in this respect.
VI. Children were having difficulties sustaining
their friendships, and many were fearful of being singled out
and seen as different for being poor.
VII. Wearing appropriate clothes and looking
"right" was considered to be particularly important
by children. But many children felt they were unable to buy the
clothes they needed to be to be socially accepted by their peers.
VIII. Children experienced social exclusion
from school trips and other shared activities. They also reported
difficulties paying for school uniforms, providing materials for
exam projects and finding general school equipment.
IX. Schools were manifestly failing to provide
these children with an enriching and socially inclusive environment.
Children's accounts revealed the dangers of being excluded within
X. Children were not attending organised
clubs nor taking part in social activities (such as youth clubs,
after school clubs or sports clubs) at home. Entry fees, uniform
and equipment costs, and transport costs affected access to these.
XI. Children in the study were fearful of
social detachment and stigma. They were also concerned about not
having enough money and how their parents were going to manage.
XII. There was little difference in experiences
and circumstances between children in lone-parent and two-parent
XIII. Age is an important factor, children
experience poverty in different ways at different ages. However
both girls and boys were experiencing difficulties and had similar
concerns. Although girls were more likely than boys to express
concerns about their parents.
XIV. Rural childhood poverty can be isolating
and heavily stigmatised. Rural children often felt isolated and
marginalised in their small communities.
XV. Children try to protect their parents
from the worst effects of poverty in childhood. They may do this
by limiting their needs and aspirations.
XVI. Further increases in Income Support
rates are needed in order to improve the living standards of children
in families receiving benefit. This should include rates for both
adults and children, because children's well-being cannot be divorced
from that of their families.
XVII. Low-income children and their parents
should be included in the development of child poverty indicators
and measures of child well-being.
XVIII. The Social Fund needs urgent reform
if it is to meet the needs of children.
XIX. School uniform grants should be re-introduced
to respond to children's fears of social stigma and difference
XX. Children should be assured access to
a range of school trips, and special fund should be set up in
schools to help low-income children with examination project costs.
XXI. Free school meals play an important
nutritional role in children's lives, but they must be delivered
in a non-stigmatising way.
XXII. Improved out of school services, accessible
to low-income children, are required, and children should be involved
in setting up and developing services in their neighbourhoods.
XXIII. Transport concessions are needed
for large families and for children aged between 14 and17 years
in low-income households.
XXIV. It is essential that policy-makers
recognise the importance of childhood in it's own right. Policy
should address children's everyday experiences as well as their
future developmental needs.
1. This memorandum is in response to the
House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee call for evidence
to assist in its enquiry into Child Poverty.
1. The Government's commitment to ending
child poverty within a 20-year period is a very significant and
welcome policy development. For too long the needs and concerns
of children who are poor have been sidelined and largely ignored.
The "Child Poverty Review" will provide an important
impetus to advance the work already done, and to develop further
strategies to ensure that the policy target of eradicating child
poverty by 2020 is met.
2. This submission is based on findings
from a recent research undertaken by the author to explore the
lives and experiences of children who are poor.
It is a child-centred study, which seeks to place children's own
meanings and values at the centre of the research process in order
to develop an understanding of childhood poverty as a lived experience.
3. In developing policies that aim to address
child poverty, it is important to engage with the lives and experiences
of children themselves. Without a good understanding of how poverty
in childhood affects children's everyday lives, polices aimed
at the eradication of child poverty may fail to address key issues
that children themselves would identify as critical for their
Findings and Policy Implications of "Childhood
Poverty and Social Exclusion: from a Child's Perspective"Child-Centred
Research Conducted with Low-Income Children
4. This research study is based on in-depth
interviews with 40 children and young people aged between 10 and
17 years old who were living in families in receipt of Income
Support. Further details of the study sample and research methodology
can be found in Annex 1 to this memorandum.
5. The study used in-depth child-centred
interviews with children to explore their experiences at school,
at home and with their families. The study focused on children's
economic and material environment, their social and familial lives,
and their own understandings of the impact poverty has made on
The Value of Consultation and Research with Children
6. We know from previous studies that growing
up in poverty has severely adverse outcomes for many children.
But we know far less about how the experience of poverty and social
exclusion impacts on children's own perceptions of their lives.
We have little understanding of how children interpret their experiences
of poverty and how those experiences may be mediated through their
differences and embedded in a diversity of social and structural
7. Children are best placed to tell us about
the issues and concerns that face them in their lives, but in
the past there has been very little research and engagement with
children who are living in poverty. What research there is shows
that children who are poor are under considerable social and economic
pressures in their childhood.
Therefore, to understand how children experience poverty and identify
the issues that concern them it is necessary to engage with them
Research FindingsChildren's Access to Economic
and Material Resources
8. A higher standard of living in society
leads to increasing demands and escalating pressures on low-income
families struggling to achieve adequate social integration and
social standing. We live in a sophisticated and complex economic
world, and the development of early economic socialisation is
of growing importance. The provision of pocket money is one of
the main agents of economic socialisation, where children develop
their capacities as social actors.
Children living in families where financial and material resources
are highly constrained are likely to experience great difficulties
developing financial literacy and accessing sufficient economic
resources for adequate social participation with their peers.
9. In the study, children reported very
limited opportunities to access their own autonomously controlled
economic resources, particularly pocket money. Nearly three quarters
of the children did not receive any pocket money at all, or received
it only on an irregular basis. This has significant implications
for children's socio-economic development.
10. Children who did receive some pocket
money were often using it to save up for clothes, school items
and bus fares. In this way they were able to go some way towards
sustaining themselves in areas where they felt they were experiencing
considerable social and economic disadvantage.
11. Many of the children without pocket
money were working. This clearly played an essential part in providing
a measure of autonomy and security. Money earned was used to participate
with other children, to share in social events and to save and
purchase important signifiers of childhood social status such
as clothes or trainers.
12. Children and young people who were working
showed considerable understanding of their family's financial
situation. Income from work both sustained children and contributed
to family budgets directly and in kind.
13. Children were aware that paid work could
also have a negative impact on their lives, through low pay, loss
of time for social interaction, and tensions between school and
work. This had caused several children and young people to leave
Children's Access to Affordable and Appropriate
14. Both urban and rural children identified
access to affordable transport as an especially vital issue for
them, without it they are vulnerable to social, and in some instances,
15. Nearly half of the children lived in
households without a car, and the majority of these were living
in lone-parent households. The difference between lone and two-parent
households was particularly marked in rural areas, where access
to a car was generally considered an essential need rather than
a luxury item.
16. Children who were regularly bussed into
their rural schools then dispersed back into their small communities
felt that inadequate and costly public transport stopped them
from staying on at school, and meeting up with other children
after school and during the weekends and holidays.
17. Children in large families felt particularly
disadvantaged, and the cost to large families of shared family
trips on public transport was seen as prohibitive.
Children's Social Relations and Social Integration
18. The importance of friendship for children
lies not just in the growth and development of social skills and
social identities, but also in learning to accept and understand
Friendships and social networks are also increasingly recognised
as powerful social assets, playing an important role in the development
and maintenance of social capital.
Therefore the role of friendship and social networks in facilitating
social integration and developing secure social identities is
an important issue for children. This is especially so for children
who are experiencing poverty and disadvantage which can result
in restricted social networks and social opportunities. Difficulties
in maintaining social relationships can leave children vulnerable
to social exclusion.
19. Children in the study greatly valued
their friendships and they identified friendship as protective
and supportive. However, most of the children in the study were
having difficulties sustaining their friendships and participating
in social groups and accepted social activities with their friends.
They saw this as due mainly to the cost of participating and the
costs of transport.
20. Children in the study also identified
the social significance of wearing appropriate and suitable clothing.
Wearing the right clothes gave them the capacity to sustain themselves
within the fashion expectations of their peers and avoid the dangers
of stigma, bullying and exclusion that could follow from `inappropriate'
dressing. However, the cost of getting the right clothes was usually
seen as prohibitive.
Children's Experiences of School Life
21. The research focused particularly on
school as an important social environment for children. Many anti-poverty
policy measures intended to address children's social and developmental
needs have been directed through schools. These have tended to
focus on improving literacy and numeracy standards and on tackling
truancy and school exclusions.
Whilst these are important issues in children's lives, the degree
of social inclusion that children experience at school is also
22. By children's own accounts, the schools
they were attending were manifestly failing to provide them with
a sufficiently inclusive social environment for their needs. They
revealed school life to be fraught with the dangers of bullying,
material disadvantage and structural exclusion from shared activities
through financial hardship.
23. Half of the children were not going
on school trips with their peers, and were therefore regularly
missing out on shared social and educational experiences. Some
children were excluding themselves from school trips by not taking
letters home, feeling that the cost was too high even to approach
24. As well as exclusion from shared social
activities, children were also keenly aware that material costs
were affecting their school involvement, particularly school uniform
costs and the extra demands related to project costs and educational
trips particularly during examination years.
25. Free school meals were also an area
of concern for some children. They were particularly singled out
by children in rural areas, who felt receiving free school meals
had led to heightened visibility and stigma. This was generally
related to the method of establishing eligibility and the delivery
system used by their schools.
Children's Home Environment and their Personal
and Familial Lives
26. Children's capacity to participate in
shared organised activities in their neighbourhoods was limited,
and they were generally unlikely to be participating in any activities
outside of their school environment. It was not that these children
and young people did not wish to join in, rather that they were
unable to do so. Entry fees, uniform or equipment costs, transport
cost and availability were all cited as barriers to participation.
27. The Government has shown a keen interest
in improving the quality of youth services through the establishment
of the Connexions Service.
However, these enhanced services are still in their formative
stages and the fieldwork areas of the study were characterised
by a general dearth of affordable clubs and leisure facilities.
28. When children were asked to reflect
on their lives in families receiving benefits, it was evident
that children were well aware of the impact of poverty on their
lives. For many of them the advent of poverty had accompanied
severe upheaval in their lives, through family illness and disability,
or family breakdown. For others, a life on benefits was all they
had ever known.
29. The effect of poverty on their social
involvement and their friendships was an area particularly highlighted
by children. Fears of social detachment and social difference
were expressed and children were especially aware of being excluded
from the events and activities of their friends and social groups.
30. Children's worries and fears revealed
a set of very adult issues. Fears and concerns for parents were
evident, and reflected an element of family insecurity. Children
were also worried about money; about how their parents would pay
bills, and about whether there would be enough for their own needs,
as well as for their families.
31. Given the imaginary opportunity to change
anything at all about their lives, children did not have an instant
wish list of expensive toys and possessions. The things they would
change were related to the mundane everyday struggles in their
lives. The need to have more space, or a break from the worry
of a disabled family member, or more opportunities to be social
and to see friends. Above all children wished for more money to
ensure some measure of security, not just for themselves, but
also for their parents.
Overarching Themes that Emerged from the Study
32. Interviews with children showed how
poverty and disadvantage can permeate every aspect of their lives;
from the material and more quantifiable aspects of their needs,
to the social and emotional requirements of childhood.
33. There was little difference found in
the study between children in lone-parent families and those within
two-parent families. Similarities in the duration of poverty experienced
produced similar poverty profiles between children.
34. Age is an important factor to consider
in relation to child poverty. Poverty impacts on children's lives
in different ways at different ages. Critical transitions in children's
lives, for example from junior to secondary school can be particularly
difficult for children to manage successfully when they are experiencing
poverty. There was less difference than might be expected between
boys and girls. They had similar difficulties and expressed similar
concerns. Although, girls were more likely than boys to express
concern about their parents, and to try to protect them.
35. Children in rural areas can experience
poverty in very particular ways. Rural poverty is experienced
in the midst of plenty and the dangers of differentiation and
stigma are very real. Rural children were especially concerned
about being singled out as different in their schools and neighbourhoods.
The cost and availability of public transport was a key issue
for rural children who often felt isolated, marginalized and effectively
trapped in their small communities.
36. We know from other research that parents,
especially mothers, in low-income households go to great lengths
to try to protect their children from the worst effects of poverty.
This study shows that the need to protect is reciprocal and children
are also struggling to protect their parents from the realities
of their childhood experiences. This can take many forms, including
the self-denial of needs and wants and a moderation of demands
in the face of severely constrained alternatives. Of particular
concern is the evidence that it is often girls who are most likely
to express concerns about their parents, and to temper their aspirations
and desires in order to protect them.
37. The schools in this study were manifestly
failing to provide the children in the study with an enriching
or inclusive learning environment. What children identified was
exclusion within school rather than exclusion from school.
38. The value of ensuring that children
are able to maintain adequate social participation is evident.
Those able and enabled to stay linked into social networks thorough
participation and inclusion in school, and involvement in clubs
and other social activities outside of school, may well be better
protected against the long term effects of poverty.
Policy recommendationsThis section is built
on the understanding and insight gained from listening to low-income
children. It sets out policy recommendations necessary to address
some of the features of exclusion and disadvantage that children
highlighted in the study
39. The introduction of Child Tax Credit
and the general up-rating of benefits for children have given
a welcome boost to support for children in low-income families.
However, adult benefit rates also need to be raised if the payments
for children are not to be diluted within families. The needs
of children cannot be separated out from those of their parents.
This research shows that children worry about money and show considerable
concern about whether their families will be able to pay their
bills and manage on a low-income. This can result in children
going without and limiting their needs and aspirations to protect
40. The development of new measures of child
poverty should include indicators of child well-being that are
based on children's lives and experiences. Therefore, there needs
to be an ongoing commitment by government to involve low-income
children and their parents in developing childhood deprivation
41. Raising children on a restricted income,
places considerable strain on both parents and their children.
The Social Fund is a key source of extra income for families trying
to provide items that children identify as essential for their
well-being such as suitable clothes and shoes. However, the Social
Fund is not providing sufficient or appropriate support for children
and is in urgent need of reform.
42. School uniforms clearly play a valuable
and protective role in children's lives. However, they are too
costly and many low-income families are forced to turn to the
Social Fund for help to purchase basic school uniform requirements.
This inevitably results in greater poverty as weekly deductions
to repay the loans are take from benefits. The restoration of
the school uniform grant would directly address children's fears
of difference, and relieve some of the pressure on already stretched
43. Children should be assured access to
school trips that are associated with the curriculum, and guaranteed
the opportunity to share in at least one or more trips away each
year that are purely for social reasons.
44. Anxiety about school examination projects
was a significant area of concern for children. To address this
schools should be assisted to establish a fund, which low-income
children can draw on for the materials required to fully participate
in such projects.
45. Measures should be taken to improve
the qualification and delivery of free school meals. Nutritionally,
free school meals have an important role to play in the health
and development of low-income children. For many of the children
free school meals were a valuable supplement, especially in families
where food supplies at home were reduced and children were feeling
hungry. However, for some children, particularly rural children,
the experience of collecting the meal was so stigmatised as to
make it undesirable. To resolve this a universal system of tokens
or swipe cards would ensure that all children collect their meals
using the same currency, and free school meal children are treated
no differently to others.
46. Children and young people experienced
great difficulties joining in with shared activities in their
neighbourhoods. The provision of appropriate out of school services,
that are affordable and attractive to young people, is an imperative
if the needs of low-income children are to be met. Wherever possible
children and young people should also be involved in identifying
their needs and developing facilities in their neighbourhoods.
47. Transport costs are a major barrier
to children's access to friends and participation in social events.
This is particularly important for young people when they move
between a half fare and an adult fare. Two forms of transport
concession could be developed to address these needs. The first
would be available to larger families on a low-income, and the
second would be a travel card for young people aged between 14
and 17 years who are living in Income Support families. This would
facilitate not only greater social engagement, but also their
involvement in part-time work, which many of these young people
were seeking in order to provide their own resources.
48. Finally, the Government has tended to
respond to child poverty in ways that have focused heavily on
the futures of children who experience poverty in childhood, a
concern for the child as the adult-to-be.
This echoes traditional concerns about children that focus less
on the lived experience of childhood and more on the child as
an investment for the future. This in turn leads to policies taking
a particular form. But the effects of poverty in children's lives
need to be understood in both the short term (outcomes in childhood
itself) and the long term (outcomes in adulthood). An important
facet of that process must be an acknowledgement and understanding
of the issues that concern children in childhood. Children experience
poverty and social exclusion in the immediacy of childhood amongst
their peers. Poverty and social exclusion for children is much
more than exclusion from society as conceived by adults. It is
exclusion from the norms and customs of children's society. Therefore
policies directed towards the eradication of childhood poverty
must recognise the importance of childhood and the impact that
poverty and disadvantage can have on children's everyday lives.
570 Ridge, T (2002) Childhood Poverty and Social Exclusion:
From a Child's perspective Bristol: Policy Press. Back
Gregg, P, Harkness, S & Machin, S (1999) Child Development
and Family Income, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Hobcraft,
J (1998) Intergenerational and Life-Course Transmission of Social
Exclusion: Influences and Childhood Poverty, Family Disruption
and Contact with the Police, Centre for the Analysis of Social
Exclusion CASE Paper 15. London: London School of Economics;
Bradshaw, J (2001) Child Poverty Under Labour in G Finnister (2001)
An End in Sight, London: Child Poverty Action Group; Ermisch,
J, Francescanii, M & Pevalin, D (2001) Outcomes for Children
of Poverty, Department of Work and Pensions Research Report No
158. Leeds: Corporate Document Services. Back
Middleton, S Ashworth, K & Walker, R (1994) Family Fortunes,
London: Child Poverty Action Group; Davis, J & Ridge, T (1997)
Same Scenery, Different Lifestyle: Rural children on a low Income,
London: The Children's Society; Roker, D (1998) Worth More Than
This. Young People Growing up in Family Poverty, London: The Children's
Lewis, A, Webley, P & Furnham, A (1995) The New Economic
Mind, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf; Furnham, A (2001) Parental
Attitudes to Pocket Money/Allowances for Children Journal of Economic
Psychology 22(3) pp 397-422; Lewis, S A (2001) Money in the Contemporary
Family, Croydon: Nestle Family Monitor No 12, Nestle UK Ltd. Back
James, A, Jenks, C & Prout, A (1998) Theorizing Childhood,
Cambridge: Polity Press; Furnham, A (1989) Friendship and Personal
Development in R Porter & S Tomaselli (eds) The Dialectics
of Friendship, London: Routledge. Back
Perri, 6 (1997) Escaping Poverty, London: Demos; Pahl,
R (2000) On Friendship, Cambridge: Polity Press. Back
Ridge, T & Millar, J (2000) Excluding Children: Autonomy,
Friendship and the Experience of the Care System Social Policy
& Administration 34 (2) pp 160-175. Back
Cm 4445 (1999) Opportunity for All: Tackling Poverty and Social
Exclusion, London: The Stationery Office. Social Exclusion Unit
(SEU) (1998) Truancy and Schools Exclusion, Cm 3957 London: The
Stationery Office. Back
Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) (2000) Connexions:
The Best Start in Life for Every Young Person, London: Department
of Education and Employment; Department of Education and Employment
(DfEE) (2001) Transforming Youth Work. Developing Youth Work for
Young People, London: Department of Education and Employment. Back
Middleton, S Ashworth, K & Braithwaite, I (1997) Small Fortunes,
York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Protection from poverty by
parents; Goode, J, Callender, C, & Lister, R (1998) Purse
or Wallet. Gender Inequalities and Income Distribution Within
Families on Benefits, London: Policy Studies Institute. Back
Cm 4445 (1999) Opportunity for All: Tackling Poverty and Social
Exclusion, London: The Stationery Office; Treasury (1999) Supporting
Children Through the Tax and Benefit System, London: HM Treasury. Back