Did you know that in 2016, 37 per cent of all children in London still live in poverty? That’s around 700,000 children – or a shocking 11 children in every class of 30. Despite the clearly visible wealth in the capital, London is still the UK region with the highest rate of child poverty, home to as many poor children as in all of Scotland and Wales.
What is child poverty and what causes it?
Each year, the Government publishes a survey of income poverty in the UK called Households Below Average income (HBAI). This survey sets the poverty line in the UK at 60 per cent of the median UK household income. In other words, if a household’s income is less than £242.40 a week, or £12,660 per year after housing costs, HBAI considers them to be living in poverty.
So if 37 per cent of all children in London live in poverty, that means that 37 per cent of children are in households where the income is less than 60 per cent of the average, after housing costs.
When children live in poverty, it effectively means that they miss out on the things that most take for granted: warm clothes, school trips and having friends over for tea. They do less well at school and earn less as adults. Any family can fall on hard times and find it difficult to make ends meet. But poverty isn’t inevitable. With the right policies every child can have the opportunity to do well in life, and we all share the rewards of having a stronger economy and a healthier, fairer society.
The causes of child poverty in London are complex, however it is generally agreed that the high cost of living, including higher housing and childcare costs, as well as a lack of part-time jobs and flexible childcare, all contribute to child poverty levels in the capital.
Let’s take housing to start with. The high cost of housing in London isn’t new, but the proportion of households that rent privately has increased substantially in recent years, from a low of 14 per cent in 1991 to 26 per cent in 2014. The average monthly rent is a huge £1,600 – more than double the England average of £770. Social sector rents are about a third of the cost of private sector rents, but these rents have also been rising.
This means that many families find themselves with little prospect of the secure and affordable homes their children need. Nearly 50,000 homeless families are living in limbo in temporary accommodation and almost 4000,000 children are growing up in overcrowded conditions, which impact on their health, education and life chances. The housing crisis needs fixing, fast – and the new Mayor of London has made it his single biggest priority to tackle it.
Lack of flexible, affordable childcare
The challenges facing London’s childcare system are complex. London parents rely more on formal childcare, as they are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than in other parts of the country. They are paying over £1 billion on childcare every year and in the last eight years, have seen the cost of a nursery place for a child over 2 soar by 65 per cent, while the cost of a childminder for a child over 2 has soared by 70 per cent.
Childcare costs in London eat away at the financial gains from working, or working more hours – in other words, mothers financially aren’t much better off working, and yet they find themselves spend less time with their children.
Low employment, low pay
We know that mothers want to work but too many find the combination of low wages, unsuitable working hours and high transport and childcare costs make working impossible. As such, the employment rate for mothers in couples in London is 12 percentage points lower than in the rest of England.
Women generally earn less than men because they tend to take on more childcare duties. They are also more likely to be in part-time jobs, which are generally lower paid. Women on low incomes often have no choice but to take jobs below their level of experience, or work in gendered occupations characterised by low pay, such as in the retail, hospitality and care sectors.
What can we do about it?
It might seem as though child poverty in London is inevitable, but it isn’t – there is something we can all do to tackle it.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) promotes action to prevent and end poverty among children and families with children in the UK. Alice Woudhuysen, who manages CPAG’s London campaign, is looking for a politically active group of parents who are interested in taking action to prevent and end child poverty in their local area – or in London more widely.
It’s completely up to you what you decide to campaign on: you might want to lobby your council to extend universal free school meals across the borough, or to pay the London Living Wage. Free childcare might be an issue in your area, so you may want to campaign for more extend school services such as breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, which act as a form of childcare.
Whatever the issue, Alice can help you pick it and work out your strategy by running a workshop with you. She’ll also provide you with all the materials you need for launching your own campaign and be with you every step of the way, for as long as you need.
If this is something you and your group of friends might be interested in doing, do please get in touch with Alice on 020 7812 5210 or by email on [email protected].