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This is not a slow burning threat

In 2017 ADCS published A country that works for all children, a policy position paper which aimed to articulate the many challenges facing children and their families at the time and the wider contextual impact on them. That paper set out a range of asks for government to address challenges and the Association is updating this paper which will be published soon. Much has changed in seven years but not necessarily for the better, and the pandemic continues to impact on children and young people. Progress has not been made on urgent issues, such as child and family poverty and indeed things have continued to decline.

All children should be able to say, ‘my family and I don’t live in poverty and we’re not hungry’, they can’t. Over 4 million children in the UK live in poverty, the majority from working families and a rising number of families are experiencing destitution. Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found over 1 million children were destitute in 2022, almost 3 times the number in 2017. Also, more and more families are relying on food parcels to get by.

Poverty is impacting our communities to such an extent that it underpins so many of the challenges that lead families to our door. The evidence is clear on the impact of poverty across all ages, it is linked to low birth weight in babies, poor physical and mental health and it is much harder to learn if you’re going to school hungry. Poverty affects life expectancy too, a recent review by Sir Michael Marmot found over 1 million people died earlier than they would have done between 2011 and 2019 if they lived in the wealthiest 10% of areas.

Successive governments have known about widening social and economic inequalities that are impacting children’s health, wellbeing and life chances for some time. There is also a differential impact on particular groups which enhances entrenched inequalities, for example analysis by the Runnymede Trust shows Black and minority ethnic people in the UK are over twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts. This is not a slow burning threat; poverty is damaging childhoods, life chances and the future economy of this country now.

We urgently need the government to develop a national strategy to tackle the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms. We can create the conditions in which all children in this country can thrive if the political will exists.

This column first appeared on the MJ website on 5 Feb 2024.

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