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What is child poverty, its key causes and impacts?

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The vision that most people associate with the term poverty is developing countries with widespread famine and disease killing the population, however in reality it also occurs in wealthy, well developed countries and is very much present in today’s society. This essay aims to explain what is understood to be child poverty by definition and to examine the key causes of child poverty, looking at issues such as unemployment and the factors associated with it, education and how a poor education can be a contributing cause of poverty and how social factors can also be an important cause in child poverty. Once the key causes have been examined and discussed it is then possible to identify the key impacts of child poverty, looking at how poverty shapes a child’s life from an early age, the effects it has on their education, health and behaviour as well as discussing how the cycle continues from one generation to the next, concluding with a summary on all the points that have been discussed and evaluating the information that has been gathered.

All around, poverty is very much existent in the UK today and occurs when people do not have the means to have what would commonly be considered as a comfortable, healthy way of life when compared to the average person. The term poverty can be defined as individuals lacking the resources to obtain the diet, living conditions, social activities and amenities that are customary in society (Townsend, 1979.) It is widely accepted that the main factor contributing to families living in poverty is lack of money; however this cannot be seen as the only reason for children living in poverty. According to the government’s actual definition, a child is deemed to be living in poverty when the total household income is 60% below the average income. (BBC, 2012.)

However further studies have shown that child poverty is more complex than household income and to be understood properly it needs to be calculated through several different elements and these have been established by the government as whether a child lives in an unemployed household; lives in poor housing; lives in a household with a debt problem; has an unstable family environment; has poor education; has parents who lack skills and academic qualifications or has parents who have poor health (Measuring Child Poverty, 2012.) Although lack of money is at the centre of poverty it is a variety of issues combined together that cause child poverty one of the biggest and main contributing factors being unemployment within families, “In 2009/2010, 42 percent of all families below the UK poverty line contained no working members.” (Child Poverty Action Group).

This fact is not as a result of people refusing to go out to work it is very often due to circumstances out of their control, such as poor health, not having the academic qualifications or skills required for the jobs that are available, childcare costs and possibly even disability within the family. Poor education is another crucial factor in poverty as research suggests that children who experience poverty tend to achieve lower academic grades and leave school sooner than those who experience a more wealthy childhood, which in turn means these children are more likely to be have low paid jobs or be long-term unemployed in later life (Griggs, 2008; Walker, 2008.)

There is also a connection between social factors and poverty, such as the area in which people live. In areas where low-income and people receiving benefits are higher, children are more likely to be truant from school and are more likely to demonstrate disruptive behaviour all contributing to low educational attainment. Under-privileged areas depend on help from the government through benefits and funding but due to current government cuts, projects like Sure Start have been stopped and families are no longer receiving help to improve children’s education and the lack of help or support given to families dependant on childcare means due to the high costs many parents simply can’t afford to go out to work and there is no incentive to encourage new parents to return to work (BBC, 2011.)

Child poverty has a significant impact on a person’s life from a very early age and from as young as three years old a child from a poor family is more likely to be considerably behind in development than children from wealthier families. The impact on development tends to continue throughout education generally resulting in the child leaving school early with poor qualifications preventing them from getting sustainable employment in adulthood. Children born into poverty tend to be at a higher risk of infant mortality and being born with a low birth weight, this has repercussions throughout the child’s life into adulthood as they are more likely to suffer nutritional deficiencies which can have an effect on their mental health and well-being and lead to various illnesses and diseases later in life (Spencer, 2008.)

Children who experience poverty are more likely to have behavioural issues and have difficulties maintaining relationships, this can have consequences on their adult life, as they can be more inclined to be aggressive, get involved with crime and face early parenthood, all factors leading to long-term unemployment. These factors work together making the cycle of poverty pass from one generation to the next, “Living in a poor family can reduce children’s expectations of their own lives and lead to a cycle where poverty is repeated from generation to generation.” (Barnardo’s, 2012.) It is evident that poverty is not only a result of lack of money and when trying to determine child poverty a number of contributing elements need to be taken into consideration which have been identified as unemployment within families, education, health and social issues.

When examining the causes and impacts of child poverty it becomes apparent that they are interlinked and they do not only have significant consequences for the individual throughout their life but also for society as a whole, with low-income families having a higher rate of poor health and long-term illness, low academic achievement, higher rates of teenage pregnancy, criminal activity and behavioural issues, all conspiring to high levels of unemployment and a lower skilled workforce. The effect of this means economic growth is slow within society and unless the cycle is broken then poverty will continue to pass through generations and more children will experience the damaging effects of poverty in their lifetime.

Reference List
Barnardo’s, 2012. Child Poverty [online]. Available at: [Accessed 12 February 2014]. BBC, 28 April 2011. How do you tackle child poverty? [radio podcast]. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9469000/9469966.stm [Accessed 13 February 2014]. BBC, 15 November 2012. Child poverty: Definition could include family breakdown [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20334619 [Accessed 13 February 2014]. Child Poverty Action Group, 2000 – 2012. [online]. Available at: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/what-is-poverty [Accessed 10 February 2014]. Griggs, J., Walker, R., October 2008. The Costs of Child Poverty for Individuals and Society: A literature review. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation [online]. Available at:

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