We are delighted to host a guest blog by June O'Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), the UK’s largest charitable social enterprise
Access to high quality affordable childcare in local communities is accepted as central to supporting the reduction of some elements of child poverty, not least through parents being able to work and the education route for children. However, the Mayor of London commissioned a report last month which found that childcare providers across London will struggle to survive 2021 due to the challenges from the pandemic which has caused significant overheads as well as substantial reductions in income.
Unsurprisingly, those in deprived areas were hardest hit with a staggering 70% of nurseries in disadvantaged areas ‘struggling’ compared with 59% in more affluent areas. That is a huge blow for those children and their families who won’t be able to access high quality Early Years education – something which has been shown to be very effective at reducing the attainment gap – nor will they have accessible and affordable childcare so that they can go out to work.
In 2018, I gave a TEDxTalk about the impact of child poverty and what shocked me the most was just how many people living in poverty were actually working. The UK is the 6th richest economy in the world yet 14.5 million people are living in poverty (with a household income less than 60% of the UK average). Of these, 4.2m children currently live in poverty – and those under the age of five the hardest hit. Families with two parents working full time, at the national minimum wage, are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child.
Since the pandemic, the Legatum Institute suggested a further 690,000 people have been pushed into poverty of whom 120,000 are children. For these families, the crisis has multiplied their struggle to balance insecure work, low pay and a patchy welfare system while trying to cover the cost of essentials like soaring rents, food, fuel bills, transport and childcare. In a report by the Childhood Trust, children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health has also been badly impacted by Covid.
Poverty is a scourge – inflicting great misery on millions of children from which most will have great difficulty escaping. It is multi layered in its impact affecting their health, education (both expectations and outcomes) and not to mention their personal confidence and sense of wellbeing.
Poverty also has an emotional drag. Older children report feeling ashamed and unhappy and worry about their parents. Disadvantaged children are 4.5 times more likely to develop severe mental health problems by age eleven (compared to their well-off peers). Children in inadequate housing have been shown to be more at risk of respiratory illnesses and meningitis. Those in the most disadvantaged areas can expect 20 fewer years of good health in their lives than children in places with more resources.
Even the House of Lords itself said that Universal Credit pushes families even further into poverty. It also costs society. A cautious estimate is £12 billion a year responding to the social and educational consequences of child poverty (and that fails to calculate the ongoing economic costs of children failing to reach their potential). Turn it on its head and addressing child poverty could benefit the Exchequer £17 billion through increased tax receipts and reduced welfare costs.
It goes without saying that we have a duty of care to our youngest citizens. Nelson Mandela reminded us that there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children. Right now, we should all be ashamed. Consecutive governments have all talked about the importance of the Early Years and funded research to support the impact of early intervention, yet no one will fund it properly. The pandemic is proving to be the last straw for many settings. What else needs to be said? A combination of redundancies, income cuts and increased costs mean the UK’s poorest families are getting poorer and child poverty is on the rise.
What ACTION Can We Take NOW?
- Start a National conversation about what a happy modern childhood should look like?
- Agree an integrated, cross departmental National Strategy to Reduce Child Poverty
- Increase Universal Credit and provide affordable and good quality family housing
- Increase access to fully funded Early Education for our youngest children with support and training subsidies for parents trapped in poverty
- Write to your local MP with a call to put child poverty at the heart of the UK’s recovery
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