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How does poverty affect children?

Many people would consider children to be some of the most vulnerable people within our society. So, how does poverty affect children?
Image of children's hands
© University of York

Poverty impacts people in many ways and intersects with a number of other areas of concern for policymakers such as in regards to criminal justice policy.

Many people would consider children to be some of the most vulnerable people within our society and research shows that the well-being of children is affected if they are poor. Most of the ways of measuring child-wellbeing are affected by poverty or its proxies.

Exploring child poverty

There is vast literature on the impact of poverty on child well-being. Griggs and Walker (2008) produced one of the most comprehensive reviews of child poverty. They found:

  • Education: evidence shows that poor educational outcomes are associated with child poverty. Areas that are deprived act as ‘pockets’ of disadvantage where limited access to, for instance, high-quality pre-school provision leads to poor quality schooling. Children on free school meals are less likely to meet Key Stage standards and achieve five or more good GCSEs.
  • Health: poverty can affect babies and children during the antenatal period, birth and infancy- its impact is profound. There is evidence that poverty is associated with earlier births, low birth weight, higher rates of mortality and morbidity and maternal depression. These have a subsequent effect on childhood health with poverty associated with school absences. Moreover, poverty is associated with poor and overcrowded housing conditions with poor health outcomes. Hirsch (2013) has estimated the health costs of child poverty to be £500 million per year.
  • Employment: Children who grow up in poverty struggle to get a job. Their career progression is also impacted by growing up in poverty. Lower educational attainment is also associated with low skills and thus lower-paid jobs. There are also higher rates of unemployment amongst individuals who grew up in poverty.

The views of children

The views of children are often absent from research on child poverty. The lack of inclusion of their views has meant that measures of child poverty rely on adult views of children’s needs. They don’t, therefore, account for children’s own perspectives of what they need.

The relationship between children’s own wellbeing and child poverty

Main (2014) and Main and Bradshaw (2012) have attempted to understand the relationship between children’s own wellbeing and child poverty by developing the Child Deprivation Scale (CDS) based on children’s own perceptions of their needs.

Through consulting with children a list of items and activities perceived as necessities was constructed, items included:

  • Pocket money
  • Access to a family car
  • Clothes to fit in with other people their age
  • Shoes or footwear to fit in with other people their age
  • A mobile phone
  • A garden or a safe place nearby to spend time

Adults perception of children’s needs

Several of the items included were in line with adult perceptions of children’s needs such as having a garden but others such as clothes to fit are much more in line with children’s own perspectives (Main and Bradshaw, 2014).

Many of the most popular items highlighted by children as important such as the need for a mobile phone or clothes that fit them could be viewed as children being materialistic but actually, they were highlighted for much more social and symbolic reasons.

Fitting in

The notions of ‘fitting in’ and being able to join in were highlighted by children in the CDS as important to them especially as it was the way they could avoid being singled out and/or bullied (Main, 2013). Living in poverty puts this notion at risk, as children are less likely to have new and well-fitting clothes.

© University of York
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