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UNICEF calls on austerity Britain not to harm children

A new UNICEF report shows that during the early years of the global economic crisis, the UK did better than many other rich countries in reducing child poverty and protecting children from deprivation, but warns that Government policies to reduce spending now means that this will reverse and more children will grow up in poverty.

UNICEF Report Card 10, Measuring Child Poverty, is the latest in the series of reports that in 2007 ranked the UK as bottom out of 24 rich countries on child wellbeing.

The report shows how economically advanced countries had performed on tackling child poverty and sets out a new ‘Deprivation index’* alongside the measure of relative poverty based on household income. Key findings from the report show that in 2009 some 13 million children in the European Union (plus Norway and Iceland) lacked basic items necessary for their development. Meanwhile, 30 million children – across 35 countries with developed economies – lived in poverty.

David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK said:

‘This report shows how committed Government action can make a big difference for children. The UK should be proud that our commitment to end child poverty by 2020 in the past has seen a clear improvement in reducing child poverty and protecting vulnerable children from deprivation.’

‘However, we know that the number of children living in poverty in the UK is set to increase due to spending cuts. This will be a catastrophic blow to the futures of thousands of children, putting at risk their future health, education and chances of employment. One thing is clear; Government policies to tackle the deficit must not harm children. There is only one chance at childhood – we cannot see a generation, growing up in austerity, denied the chance to fulfil their potential.’

The UK’s performance: What the report says

The UK’s success in reducing child poverty to date is linked to the previous Government’s focus on increasing household income. Tax credits, cash transfers and accessible public services played a key role in reducing child poverty in the UK and protecting children from deprivation. Even though the UK missed its own targets to reduce child poverty to 1.7 million children in 2010, the UK still had one of the largest reductions in child poverty after Government intervention. 

In particular, tables in the report show how Government action protected four key groups of vulnerable children from becoming deprived; those children in immigrant families, jobless households, in single-parent families and with low parental education. The UK comes second only to Sweden in protecting children in jobless households and in the top third of countries overall in this area.

Measuring poverty: What the report says

The report also tackles the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the relative child poverty measure, which is the standard way of measuring child poverty but has recently come under criticism in the UK. While a clear weakness is that as incomes rise and fall more children could be classed as living in poverty without any real change in their lives, the relative child poverty measure still remains the best predictor of a child’s future.

The report notes that the relative child poverty measure and the deprivation index reflect what wealthy societies think are the basics that a child needs in order to grow up and develop to his or her full potential today. In that sense all measures of poverty are relative as they reflect the times we live in. 

The authors argue the relative financial measure still remains a vital cornerstone for assessing child poverty and the report praises the UK for analysing child poverty through a range of different measures including income, deprivation and purchasing power.

On the question of measurement David Bull added:

‘A child’s family income is the foundation for his or her chances in life. The report shows that by focussing on relative poverty, vulnerable children have been protected from deprivation. The Government must keep measuring relative child poverty and set out a credible plan to end child poverty by 2020.’

Commenting on Report Card 10, Family Action Chief Executive Helen Dent said:

‘The parents we support are under more pressure than ever before to provide for their children. Families and children are now in the eye of the austerity storm and we're deeply concerned that Government measures to cut the deficit are blighting children's futures.

This timely report from UNICEF shows the difference Government's can make to children and families when they tackle relative poverty. We hope the Coalition takes note and strengthens their promise to make child poverty history.’

 - ENDS -

For more information please contact Stephen Pattison on 0207 375 6030 or stephenp@unicef.org.uk  

Notes to Editors

* The deprivation index

The measure measures ‘child deprivation’ through an index constructed by UNICEF that defines a child as ‘deprived’ if he or she lacks two or more items from a list of the 14 basic requirements below.  It draws on data from the European Union’s Statistics on Incomes and Living Conditions survey.

1. Three meals a day

2. At least one meal a day with meat, chicken or fish (or vegetarian equivalent

3. Fresh fruit and vegetables every day

4. Books suitable for the child's age and knowledge level (not including schoolbooks)

5. Outdoor leisure equipment (bicycle, roller-skates, etc.)

6. Regular leisure activities (swimming, playing an instrument, participating in youth organizations etc.)

7. Indoor games (at least one per child, including educational baby toys, building blocks, board games, computer games tec.

8. Money to participate in school trips and events

9. A quiet place with enough room and light to do homework

10. An Internet connection

11. Some new clothes (i.e. not all second-hand)

12. Two pairs of properly fitting shoes (including at least one pair of all-weather shoes)

13. The opportunity, from time to time, to invite friends home to play and eat.

14. The opportunity to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, name days and religious events.

How is relative child poverty measured in the report?

The report measures relative poverty at 50% below the median income but shows in Fig. 5 that the UK’s performance on relative child poverty does not much change if you measure at 40 or 60% below the median income.

The Data

Data in the report goes up to 2009 but is further supported by separate EU data that shows the percentage of children at risk of poverty fell in the UK following Government action in 2010.

Other Report Cards in this series

Report Card 7 (2007): Child Wellbeing

Report Card 8 (2008): Early Years Care and Education

Report card 9 (2011): Children falling behind

Children’s rights and Poverty

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK ratified in 1991, sets out state obligations on child poverty. States have a duty to commit the most available resources to ensure children’s rights are upheld (Article 4) and provide adequate social security to ensure a child can enjoy an adequate standard of living (Article 27).


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