Category Archives: Poverty in the UK

300,000 people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat.

On today’s National Day of Action Against Sanctions, Ruth Patrick highlights the reality of welfare reform as laid out in her new book, For whose benefit? The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.

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Ruth Patrick

“While Cameron and Osborne may no longer be in charge, their welfare reform agenda continues apace. This month sees the implementation of another wave of reforms, which will further weaken Britain’s social security system.

Over recent years, politicians have robustly defended successive rounds of welfare reform. They argue that reform is needed to end supposed cultures of ‘welfare dependency’ and prevent people from being able to ‘choose’ benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’. In making their case, politicians draw upon simplistic but powerful demarcations between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependants’, and suggest that welfare reform will help those on out-of-work benefits join the ranks of the hard working majority.

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

“Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right. Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up: building a country where people aren’t trapped in a cycle of dependency but are able to get on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves and their family.”

But does Cameron’s moral case stand up? And has welfare reform actually helped people make transitions from ‘welfare’ and into work?

“The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.”

Patrick_For whose benefit-webOver the past six years, I have been researching experiences of welfare reform: walking alongside a small group of individuals as they anticipated, experienced and reflected upon changes to their benefits. By returning to the same people several times, I was able to contrast their expectations with what subsequently happened, and to unpick individual journeys through the benefit system against a context of far-reaching welfare state retrenchment.

The single parents, disabled people and young job seekers I spoke to did not recognise the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice. Their lived experiences contrasted markedly with the popular stereotypes so often peddled by politicians and replicated and reproduced in the media. What they instead showed was the hard ‘work’ that getting by on benefits demands, and the ways in which welfare reform simply added an additional burden to their already difficult lives.

One of the individuals I interviewed was Adrian, a young job seeker and care leaver who had a history of offending. Adrian had never worked, but expressed strong aspirations to find employment, aspirations that endured over time despite repeated setbacks. Challenging the popular narrative of ‘inactive’ claimants, Adrian volunteered at a local homeless hostel, enjoying the chance to ‘give something back’ and provide support that he himself had once benefited from.

“The single parents, disabled people and young job seekers I spoke to did not recognise the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice.”

At the time of our first interview, back in 2011, Adrian was on a benefits sanction for failing to apply for a job after a misunderstanding between himself and his Job Centre Plus adviser. Over the following five years, he was subject to repeated sanctions, and these often seemed to be due to poor communication, confusing directions as well – on occasions – as Adrian’s failure to turn up for appointments on time or when unwell.

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Image copyright: Dole Animators

For Adrian, sanctions meant immediate and extreme hardship, and indirectly led to his becoming homeless when he was unable to pay back rental arrears. To survive, Adrian turned to foodbanks and was also caught shoplifting sandwiches for which he received a fine which he was unable to pay because of his sanctions.

While Adrian continued to seek work, he felt the sanctions made this more difficult:

“You’d ring them [employers] up and they’d say “oh, come down, we’ll go for an interview”. You’d go for an interview and if it’s a point where you’re being sanctioned, you’re all…skinny and everything, you look proper ill. They look at you and go “nah, you look like a crackhead or something.”

When I spoke to Adrian last year, he explained the impact sanctions had on his work-search and mental health:

“[I go to the work programme] more or less every week….Just talk about looking for work, and then they’d put me on some mock interview and [I’d] never get through. They did say why, they said [poor] eye contact, which were pretty good. Cos I don’t make eye contact after the sanctions and that, I became very unsociable, didn’t want to trust…now it’s just lasted, made me unsociable with people and that, made me feel down…”

Adrian has been ill-served by a punitive welfare reform agenda that is grounded in a baseless rhetoric that suggests that individuals require ‘tough’ measures if they are to be activated off benefits and into employment. Over five years, repeated sanctions left him destitute and – ironically – further away rather than closer to the paid labour market. What Adrian needed – but what was notably absent – was targeted and effective support.

Any further changes to the social security system should start with a complete rethinking of the assumptions that currently underpin ‘welfare reform’. Unpicking these assumptions requires a recognition of the lived experiences of poverty and out-of-work benefits receipt, experiences that expose the weakness of David Cameron’s moral case for welfare reform.

First published by the Policy Press

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The government promised to help disabled people back into work. They’re failing – and now it looks like their Welfare Reform is targeting those who need higher levels of support.

The Government published its long-awaited ‘Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability’ Green Paper at the end of October 2016 after originally promising a White Paper in 2015. The White Paper was supposed to define how disabled people would be supported into work and meet the Government’s manifesto pledge of halving the disability employment gap of 34% by 2020 (currently it stands at 32%).

The employment gap was used to justify further draconian cuts in social security support for disabled people in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill published last summer. In particular, the Bill announced cuts of approximately £1,500 a year in Employment and Support Allowance to half a million people in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) – those people who had been found not fit for work, but who may be in the future – to be introduced in April 2017.

The 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Act followed the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which Scope estimated by 2018 will have cut nearly £28bn of social security support to 3.7m disabled people. Of course this doesn’t include £4.6bn cuts in social services support since 2010 or the NHS crisis, both of which affect disabled people.

The Green Paper, the consultation for which closed on 17th February just 6 weeks before the ESA WRAG cuts come into place, makes the bold claim that ‘…employment can…promote recovery.’

The issue I have with this statement, and the tone of the Green Paper as a whole, is that this implies that disabled people and people with chronic conditions would recover if only they tried a bit harder, or their doctors weren’t such soft touches. It doesn’t mention ‘shirkers’ directly but comments on how some people with the same condition languish in the ESA Support Group whilst others “flourish at work”, making it clear that’s what they’re thinking, ignoring their own rhetoric about “not treating everyone in a one-size-fits-all way”.

As a former Public Health consultant who researched into the health effects of work and worklessness, I agree that some work is good for health, but I don’t agree with the Government’s flawed thinking underpinning this: that it’s OK for people to return to work when they are still not fit, because it may help. This is not just unsound, it’s dangerous.

The scapegoating of disabled people, which includes people with physical or mental impairments and long-term health conditions as defined under the 2010 Equality Act, has been a hallmark of this Government and the previous Coalition. But even the conclusion of the United Nations inquiry that the UK Government has been responsible for ‘grave…systematic violations’ of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2010, has been met with Government stonewalling.

It is already well established that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of the extra costs associated with their disability. Currently 4.2 million disabled people live in poverty and I have been informed from unpublished analysis by an Economic and Social Research Council research project that this is getting worse.

The Government has refused to stop the cuts to ESA WRAG and Universal Credit’s Limited Capacity to Work which come in this April, which will undoubtedly increase the numbers of disabled people living in poverty, threatening their health and well-being. Various discretionary funds may be available, for example the Flexible Support Fund, but there is no guarantee of support and they are quite specific in what they can be used for.

The timing of these cuts when there has been a negligible reduction in the disability employment gap is quite shocking. The Green Paper rings alarm bells that people in the ESA Support Group are the next to be targeted by Welfare Reform. Linked to this, the new Work Capability Assessment criteria which the Government announced last September (after I committed to scrap the Work Capability Assessment) will be published later this year. These will give a clear indication what the Government’s real agenda is.

The Green Paper also talks about employers and the need for them to invest more in workplace health and occupational health support. This is, of course, very important; 90% of disability and long-term health conditions are acquired, so it is absolutely right to examine what can be done to reduce the risk of employees falling ill and how employers can make reasoned adjustments to support an employee to stay in work if they become disabled. But Access to Work helped only 36,000 disabled people stay in or access work in 2015 out of the 1.4m disabled people who are fit and able to work.

Welfare Reform

To date, the Disability Confident Campaign launched in 2015 has been a dismal failure making a negligible impact on the disability employment gap. Changes in employer attitudes and behaviour needs practical support, including Access to Work. But what is the Government doing to support employers, especially small businesses given that nearly half the workforce is employed by them? How can a small business access affordable, timely occupational health support? With the NHS in crisis and waiting times for non-urgent treatments escalating, how will timely interventions to help people back to work be delivered?

As always with this Government and the previous Coalition, they are happy to point fingers at everyone else without taking any responsibility themselves. They talk about the impact of work on health and the need for ‘culture change’ and to ‘reinforce health as a work outcome’ but what about the impacts of the social security system on the health of claimants? Their policies have a direct impact on people’s health in the punitive, humiliating way they are too often implemented, but also through the real, enduring poverty and hardship people are forced to live under.

Labour will hold this Conservative Government to account on all these areas, developing meaningful, alternative, approaches with disabled people, employees, and employers as part of our Disability Equality Roadshow. If this Government is committed to a fairer society, they should stop trying to rebuild the economy off the backs of poor, sick and disabled people.

Labour believes, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity.

First published by Open Democracy

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Whether e-cigarettes can help address health inequalities will depend on take-up in deprived communities – but cost and ‘faff’ are discouraging deprived smokers from switching, according to new research.

The study involved community-based research in the North East of England with smokers and quitters over three years from 2012 to 2015. Research participants bought both tobacco and electronic cigarettes largely through informal outlets and personal networks – but for the very poorest, cost was a barrier to any e-cigarette use. Although £10 would buy a starter tank and e-liquid, smokers could get a week’s worth of illicit rolling tobacco for the same money. The poorest could not risk such a large outlay on something that might not work.

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Figure 1: People bought from informal outlets

Even those who could afford better tended to buy cheap e-cigarettes (and cheap tobacco if they were still smoking) because addiction was a problem for their moral identity, as was excessive expenditure on the self. Older people were particularly likely to be put off by the association of the e-cigarette with pleasure or play, and avoided aspects of e-cigarette use which they associated with frivolity or self-indulgence: sweet flavours, expensive parts, vaping shops, culture and language.

Users struggled with the faff factor

Users struggled with the time, effort and expense involved in finding the ‘right’ e-cigarette and the frequency of product failure i.e. cheaper tank models splitting, leaking, or bubbling if over-tightened or dropped, and problems with batteries running out or failing to charge. Unless users were highly motivated to quit, smoking was easier and cheaper taking into account the cost of e-cigarette replacement and the availability of illicit tobacco.

This practical problem was also a gender issue. The energy, time and money needed to switch successfully to e-cigarettes were often lacking for older women heavily invested in family care, whose personal health was relatively low in their hierarchy of concerns. Mature women in the study had a relational sense of identity in which care of the self was at the bottom of a hierarchy of concerns. For these women, their own health simply did not seem important enough, in comparison with the many tasks they did for others, for them to put in the effort needed to quit. As a result, whilst they might try an e-cigarette, they quickly became impatient with aspects in which it compared poorly with the ever-reliable, endlessly replaceable cigarette.

Figures currently show slightly more women than men using e-cigarettes overall. Women are more likely to use disposable or first-generation ‘cigalikes’, but since second-generation devices deliver nicotine more effectively and are more satisfying to users, there is a risk that using less effective models may translate into fewer women ceasing to smoke. Gender is not discussed in the most recent UK e-cigarette evidence review; further research will be needed to establish whether there is a gender differential in the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking successfully.

Young men bought into vaping culture

Smoking cessation conflicted with a local ethic of working-class hedonism which encouraged sociable smoking and drinking, particularly among younger men. This meant that to abstain or quit smoking was to risk being seen as pretentious or insufficiently masculine. However, using an e-cigarette overcame this problem, not least because an interest in gadgets and technology was a legitimate male trait. The e-cigarette was therefore a viable masculine accessory in combining hedonism with technology.

Local masculinity was performed differently in mature adulthood, at which point smoking cessation could function as part of a narrative of family responsibility or indeed of mastery; older men positioned their e-cigarette use within this functional narrative. Normative masculinity also required that one should give up smoking if suffering serious ill-health such as cancer, stroke or heart attack; not to do so in such circumstances implied weakness or a lack of self-control. Some men with serious health problems who were unable to quit smoking remained dual users of tobacco and e-cigarettes, but deployed e-cigarettes as a badge of moral intent.

The success of the e-cigarette in addressing health inequalities will partly depend on whether it enables users to overcome locally normative barriers to cessation. These findings suggest that it does have some potential to do this, at least in relation to men. However, the e-cigarette is constantly changing and increasingly regulated; should it become a more medicalized product, it might lose its attractiveness as a masculine accessory. On the other hand, if more reliable and effective models start to dominate the market, this will diminish the trial and error process which discourages older women users in particular.

Whilst the findings of this study cannot be generalised to deprived areas across the UK or further afield, local meanings of smoking and cessation in relation to gender and age are crucial to e-cigarette take-up, as are place-based smoking and cessation practices more generally. Most importantly, we need to appreciate that local norms can sometimes make giving up tobacco or taking up e-cigarettes more of a risk to moral identity than carrying on smoking.

The full article is open access and available here:
Thirlway, Frances (2016). Everyday tactics in local moral worlds: e-cigarette practices in a working-class area of the UK. Social Science & Medicine 170: 106-113.

About the author

Frances Thirlway is a Research Associate at Durham University and an associate member of FUSE – the UKCRC Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. Her research interests are in health, class and culture, with a particular interest in smoking cessation (including e-cigarette use) in relation to health inequalities in the north of England and in Scotland. Follow her @fthirlway

 

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Finance guru Martin Lewis described the link between mental illness and debt as a “marriage made in hell” in the Telegraph earlier this year. The piece states that people with mental health issues are four to six times more likely to have some form of debt crisis than those without.

It’s a cyclical and deadly problem, because both sides of the issue feed each other. For those vulnerable to mental health fluctuations, debt can accelerate the feelings. Those who are depressed or suffering from anxiety might feel extra feelings of pressure and helplessness, especially if people they’ve never met contact them on the telephone at inopportune moments representing creditors and asking for the return of their money. Those strong emotions associated with clinical illness may lead to more debt, and so the struggle continues.

That cycle has also been found in universities, perhaps unsurprisingly when one considers the high levels of debt that many 21st Century students are enduring. A recent study by the University of Southampton and Solent NHS Trust, reported in The Independent, found those undergraduates with higher levels of debt were more likely to suffer from stress and depression, and those who already suffered from anxiety and alcoholism. In addition, nearly two-thirds of students reported in a separate survey that they were concerned about their finances all of the time or very often.

The Charity Mind has a whole section on the link between debt and mental health on its website, while Lewis himself has set up the Money and Mental Health Institute, designed to focus on forming workable solutions to prevent the escalation of debt in those with mental health problems.

However, one of the most problematic aspects of dealing with this issue will be getting sufferers to admit that they have an issue. People don’t like admitting that they can’t cope with debt, and there is still a stigma over suffering from depression or other mental health problems. Therefore, finding someone to admit to both in tandem will be particularly tough. They may not seek help, and might not act on it even if they do seek it. Certainly, case studies are at a premium, and these are the stories that might convince others who realise they are in a comparable state to come forward.

Another recent survey found that statistically a staggering one million adults in Scotland believe they have a debt problem, and of those three-quarters of those worry about that debt all or most of the time. Only 5% don’t worry about their debts. Of course mental health is a spectrum and not all those who are worrying about their financial situations will have mental health problems, but a further question discovered that 800,000 people who said they had a debt problem also admitted their mental well being had suffered, as well as their sleep patterns and relationships with those close to them.

So what happens now? The first step is recognising that there is a problem, and the evidence is overwhelming. The next is for those suffering to find solutions to both aspects of their situation, either together or singly. There is usually some way of alleviating the issues of debt, through consolidation or a debt management plan that brings debts together into an unsecured loan. This might provide some form of short-term help for the person’s finances, but may not solve the underlying problems of the mental health issues. The hope is that Mr Lewis’ new initiative can find some of the answers.

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In 1842, the English social reformer Edwin Chadwick documented a 30-year discrepancy between the life expectancy of men in the poorest social classes and the gentry. He also found a North-South health divide with people from all social classes faring better in the rural South than in the industrial North.

Today, these inequalities persist.People in the most affluent areas of the United Kingdom, such as Kensington and Chelsea, can expect to live 14 years longer than that those in the poorest areas, such as Glasgow or Blackpool. Men and women in the North of England will, on average die two years earlier than those in the South. Scottish people also suffer a health penalty with the highest mortality rates in Western Europe.

Such geographical inequalities in health exist, to varying degrees, in all high-income countries. People living in more deprived areas fare particularly badly in the casiono capitalism of the United States; where gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor areas of some cities, such as New Orleans, are as large as 25 years. Indeed, the US as a whole has a significant health disadvantage in comparison to other high-income countries with, for example, American men living on average three years less than their counterparts in France and five years less than Swiss men.

Understanding and reducing these health inequalities remains a major public-policy challenge worldwide and has garnered significant recent political attention. For example, in her opening speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, the new British Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the nine-year gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest boys in England. It is not only a moral issue though; health inequalities carry significant economic costs to individuals and society (e.g. NHS costs, lost productivity). But the causes of such inequalities are complex and the solutions contested.

Explaining Health and Place

In my new book, Health Divides: where you live can kill you published by Policy Press, I show that where you live affects how long you live and that the health of different places is determined both by the population composition (who lives here) and the environmental context (where you live).

Who lives here? The demographic, health behaviours and socio-economic profile of the people within a place influences its health outcomes. Generally speaking, health deteriorates with age, women live longer than men, and health status also varies by ethnicity. Levels of smoking, alcohol, physical activity, diet, and drugs – all influence the health of populations significantly. The socio-economic status – or social class in “old money” – of people living in a country also matters as those with higher occupational status (e.g. professionals such as teachers or lawyers) have better health outcomes than non-professional workers (e.g. manual workers). So differences in the characteristics of people living in a country,city or neighbourhood will impact on the health of that place.

However, my book also shows strongly that where you live matters. The economic environment of a country, such as poverty rates, unemployment rates, or wage levels can all influence public health. The social environment, including the services provided within a country to support people in their daily lives such as child care or health care and welfare, can also impact on population level health. The physical environment is also an important determinant with research suggesting that proximity to waste facilities and brownfield or contaminated land, as well as levels of air pollution can negatively affect health. So countries,cities or neighbourhoods with worse economic, social or physical environments will have worse health outcomes.

Reducing health inequalities

However, even though both composition and context matter, and can be supported by scientific evidence, politics can matter more than science in determining which strategies policymakers pursue to reduce health divides – or if they even care about inequalities at all. After all, some potential solutions are politically easier to implement within existing systems than others.

For example, interventions aimed at changing individual health behaviours are far less challenging to prevailing power structures than those that demand extensive investment in improving the social economic environment. Indeed, by blaming people for their own health problems, such interventions let governments and businesses off the hook for the wider economic, social and environmental determinants of health inequalities.

Such “downstream” approaches only tackle one side of the coin and there is little evidence that lifestyle interventions are effective in reducing health inequalities: more comprehensive measures are needed. As my book shows, most of the health gains over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were brought about by far-reaching economic, political, and social reforms which improved the wider environment and also significantly improved the financial position of the poorest people.

It has been clearly demonstrated that more equal societies almost always do better in health terms and the poorest and most vulnerable groups, say in Sweden or Norway, are far healthier and live longer than the equivalent groups in the UK or the US. These countries have done so through the development of a stable, inclusive economy, a supportive welfare system and a high standard of living.

Conclusion

So, where you live matters for how long you live – and changing how we live could reduce health inequalties.

Health Divides: where you live can kill you is available now from Policy Press.

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More must be done to give the UK’s most vulnerable children a fairer start in life

UNICEF’s long-running Report Card series provides a regular assessment of how rich countries fare in promoting child well-being. The latest Report Card, Fairness for Children, assesses ‘child well-being gaps’, which measure the distance between the most disadvantaged children and the ‘average’ child in each country. While much of the debate about inequality today focuses on the top 1 per cent, these measures capture the extent to which the most disadvantaged children fall behind the levels of well-being their peers can expect. This focus on so-called ‘bottom-end inequality’ therefore captures the extent to which each country allows their most vulnerable children to fall behind.

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The Report Card examines four domains of child well-being ­– income, education, health, and life satisfaction – and the UK’s performance can be summed up as ‘could do better’. Overall, the UK is ranked 14th (from best) out of 35 countries (Figure 1). It ranks mid-table in three of the four child well-being domains: 25th out of 37 countries on educational achievement gaps; 19th out of 35 countries on health gaps; 20th out of 35 countries on life satisfaction gaps. The UK, in common with many other countries, has made little progress in reducing gaps in these child well-being domains since the 2000s.

The UK does rather better in terms of protecting the incomes of the most disadvantaged children, ranking 7th out of 41 countries. But while the gap has narrowed significantly since 2008, this is because the incomes of children at the middle of the income distribution have fallen rather than as a result of a dramatic improvement in the incomes of children at the bottom of the distribution. Hardly, in other words, a good news story.

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That said, there is a good news story here: the incomes of the UK’s poorest children did not dramatically fall following the recession. Clear contrasts can be drawn here with many other countries hit hard by the economic crisis, particularly those in Southern Europe. This reflects the comparatively strong role social security benefits have played in protecting the incomes of many families with children in the UK. Indeed, across Europe no other country’s social security system does more in reducing the gap between the incomes of the poorest children and the average child (Figure 2).

However, social security protections for working age people have been the major focal point of the UK’s austerity agenda. Ongoing cuts to social security provision are likely to affect the well-being of the poorest children in the UK in future years, and risk widening inequalities in child well-being still further. Indeed, theResolution Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group have warned that low income working families face losing relatively large amounts of income because of recent changes to Universal Credit that are about to take effect.

Unicef_report_cardMoreover, the UK’s social security system has to work harder than those of most neighbours because underlying levels of inequality are comparatively high. While the government’s ‘National Living Wage’ is a step in the right direction here, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggest it will have little impact on poverty or inequality. In fact, after modelling the cumulative impact of recent changes to tax, benefit and labour market policies, the IFS is projecting a rise in relative child poverty from 17 per cent in 2014-15 to 25.7 per cent in 2020-21 and a rise in absolute child poverty from 16.7 to 18.3 per cent over the same period.

The analysis presented in the UNICEF Report Card suggests the government may struggle to improve child well-being outcomes without addressing rising income differentials. Countries that protect the incomes of the poorest children most strongly tend to have higher levels of overall child well-being. More generally, countries with more equal income distributions also tend to be those that do better in minimising adverse child well-being outcomes.

Newly released data from the latest (2014) wave of the Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children (HBSC) survey included in the Report Card shows that, across rich countries, children living in less affluent households are more likely to be unsatisfied with their lives than their peers. This confirms patterns found in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 HBSC data. It is hard to imagine a more powerful argument for addressing social inequalities among children than the fact that across all rich countries, and on every occasion this century they have been asked, children from economically disadvantaged households are consistently more likely to have told HBSC researchers that they are unsatisfied with their lives.

Child well-being gaps are a concern in their own right, but a further reason for policy makers to prioritise reducing them is that smaller gaps tend to benefit all children. Fairness for Children shows that countries with more equal child well-being outcomes tend to also have: fewer children living in poverty; fewer children lacking basic educational skills in reading, maths and science; fewer children reporting ill-health on daily basis; and, fewer children reporting very low levels life satisfaction.

UNICEF ’s report cards suggest the UK has made progress in addressing overall levels of child well-being since being ranked bottom of the table in the early 2000s. Stephen Crabb used his first speech as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to pledge ‘a relentless focus on improving life chances’ by mobilising ‘all parts of government to tackle poverty’ and creating ‘a welfare system that does protect the most vulnerable’. If the government is serious about this agenda then it must to do more to close child well-being gaps and give the UK’s most vulnerable children a fairer start in life.

This article by John Hudson and Stefan Kühner, was first published on the British Politics and Policyblog

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What’s the problem?

In his 2015 Budget the Chancellor George Osborne proposed an increased statutory minimum wage rate with a new name, the ‘national living wage’ . Unlike the real Living Wage, his minimum wage rate does not relate to what households need to live decently. The national living wage is a misuse of the idea and name of the real Living Wage; Mr Osborne has stolen the brand name of an established idea known in policy circles for many years. Public discussion of ‘living wages’ shows confusion between Mr Osborne’s minimum wage rate which is not calculated as enough to live on decently, and the real Living Wage which is.

How are minimum wage rates set?

The government’s Low Pay Commission  discusses with employers and  employees what pay rates they think business can afford. It then makes recommendations to government which sets the minimum rates employers must pay. Evidence about people’s minimum decent living standards or needs is not part of this process.

How is the real Living Wage set?

The real Living Wage is based on what ‘Living’ means. ‘Living’ means freedom to choose the real, socially inclusive life which the public in the UK, not politicians, think is needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living for everybody. That includes not only warm clothing, shoes, adequate bedding and a healthy diet but also spending on things like sports and presents for children as well as normal shopping and other bills. Groups of ordinary people discuss what the minimum standard is with each other and with experts in fields like nutrition, housing and heating until they arrive at agreement. The costs of this minimum acceptable living standard are then calculated for various household types and published as the minimum income standard.

Household incomes needed to pay for this minimum acceptable standard don’t only come from earnings. They also come from the mixture of tax allowances, child benefits and social security benefits for which households may be eligible. So if government reduces the value of allowances and benefits, then earnings levels have to rise to compensate. In principle, if government raised the levels of allowances and benefits, then the part of household income needed to reach the minimum acceptable standard which comes from earnings could fall, but this hasn’t yet happened.

The Living Wage is calculated as the hourly rate of earnings which the majority of workers need to earn for a week’s work to reach the minimum income standard or equivalent level in London or in the rest of the UK, taking account of their households’ other income from personal or household allowances and benefits. Because it is part of households’ total income which is needed to afford the minimum acceptable standard agreed by the public for everybody, it is thus completely different from the government’s national living wage which has no connection with minimum living standards.

Should there be a target?

Government proposes the national living wage should rise to 60 percent of over-25s’ median hourly earnings. That says nothing about what earnings are needed to reach real Living Wage levels for most households, because it takes no account of other government sources of household income. It risks confusion with the official ‘poverty line’, 60 percent of median household incomes. Both percentages measure income inequalities, not how much is enough. In reality, empirical poverty research  in the UK 2008-15 shows that 60 percent of median household incomes continues to be too low to cover the public’s minimum acceptable living standards for families. Similarly, there is no evidence that 60 percent of median hourly earnings would be high enough to meet them, even with other current income from government sources. At best, statistical indicators of this kind are mileposts but not goalposts, good for showing how far we have got but not for where we need to get to.

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In recent months, the term “sharing economy” has been used mostly to describe a “peer-to-peer economy“, one involving the sharing of private assets through bartering and the swapping of goods, time, and expertise. Among the most quoted examples are the global rental website Airbnb and Uber, the transport sharing platform. But this is a very narrow definition. The concept can instead be defined to describe anapproach to policy-making, aimed at ensuring the proceeds of economic activity and of growing prosperity are more evenly shared across society. This definition (and goal) used to be central to the post-war construction of managed capitalism, a model in which living standards for all groups rose in line with economic prosperity.

Yet under market capitalism, the gains from growth have been heavily skewed in favour of a powerful elite: driving the pro-rich, anti-poor trends of the last three decades is the rising concentration of private capital ownership. This, in turn, has been fuelled by rolling privatisation, an antipathy to public ownership and collectivism, and a growing boardroom preference for securing growth through corporate mergers and acquisitions. As the World Bank economist, Branco Milanovic, has argued: ‘If one of the drivers of inequality are capital incomes… this is because they are heavily concentrated. “Deconcentration” of capital incomes, that is much wider ownership, is then a solution. But it is seldom mentioned.’

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With the exception of the US, few other rich nations operate a model of such intense corporate capitalism, one dominated by the power of the giant private corporation. Co-operatives account for only 2 per cent of the British economy, much lower than, for example, in Germany, Italy and Switzerland, while other alternative business models, from mutuals to partnerships, are greatly under-used. Key sectors – from supermarkets and energy supply to food production and accountancy – are dominated by a handful of companies. Individuals today own 12 per cent of traded shares, down from 54 per cent in 1954. Shares are held much more transiently than in the past, increasingly by global asset management companies and high-frequency traders.

Outside of the UK, there is much less fixation with private ownership: countries as diverse as Germany and Singapore have higher levels of state ownership. Many rich nations that have gone down the privatisation route are now unwinding their privatisation programmes  in response to the way utilities have been exploited for private gain. Outside of the UK there is also much wider use of social wealth funds – collectively held pools of wealth. Sovereign wealth funds have been established in a diversity of nations from Norway to New Zealand, and in a number of US states, mostly funded from natural resource exploitation. Although such funds are not all used for wider public benefit, the model of collectively-owned wealth offers a potentially powerful economic and social instrument, an alternative to both privatisation and traditional nationalisation.

Such funds can be used to spread the ownership of capital and its gains more widely, thus offering a direct attack on the roots of inequality. Having failed to establish its own fund from the proceeds of North Sea oil, widely accepted as a major policy error, Britain should seek alternative finance by cancelling the privatisation process and pooling all commercial public assets, from property and land to public companies, into a public ownership fund. Managed independently, such a fund could generate returns to be used for wider public benefit, prevent the shrinking of the nation’s asset-base and ensure that a higher proportion of the gains from economic activity are re-invested for productive use.

Political leaders, national and global, continue to declare verbal war on inequality. In the UK, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth was formed in 2014, while the Conservative Party is still selling – for £10 – its 2010 election poster “All In This Together”. But if the anti-inequality rhetoric and the search for “inclusive growth” is to be given substance, it needs much more than policy tinkering, a nudge in the minimum wage rate here or modest reforms to corporate governance there. Creating a “sharing economy” in which the gains from growth are more evenly shared needs to tackle the source of inequality: the growing concentration of capital ownership and the unyielding power of corporate capitalism.

First published on the British Politics and Policy blog

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On Friday, campaigners from Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and Boycott Workfare staged a stormy protest outside City Road Medical Centre in Islington, against the introduction of ‘job coaches’ into GP practices, under the rubric of ‘integration’ and ‘joined up care’.

In fact, the arrival of job coaches in Islington GP surgeries exposes the toxic reality of government plans to merge health and employment services. In a move that is both unethical and unsafe, health professionals are being tasked to deliver benefit cuts for the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP). This involves  a raft of measures to support the imposition of ‘work cures’, including setting ’employment’ as a clinical outcome and allowing employment coaches to directly update a patient’s medical record.

Islington GP Pilot

NHS Islington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who oversee local health care, has accepted DWP funding to ‘drive employment outcomes through strategic health commissioning’, in a move intended to enforce the mantra that ‘work is good for you’, whether it is or not.

Jobs on prescription‘ targets people with long term mental health conditions and is being piloted in seven Islington GP practices, as part of a £90K collaboration between the council, the Jobcentre, DWP, and Islington CCG. In other words, a partnership between healthcare and the government departments responsible for administering benefits, including the punitive and unaccountable sanctions regime – a system which is known to disproportionately affect people with mental health conditions, as well as disabled people and those with long term health conditions’ please.

Destroying patient trust

The first casualty of government efforts to interfere with clinical judgment is trust. The scheme will undermine trust between doctors and patients and could discourage disabled people and people claiming benefits from using healthcare at all, if doing so is seen to be linked to pressure to find paid work or loss of benefits. An activist from Disabled People Against Cuts warns that

many disabled people already feel they have to watch every word they say when seeing their GP, in case it is used against them at some point to stop their benefits. Placing Jobcentre-funded staff in doctors’ surgeries could destroy the doctor/patient relationship and may lead to some people not accessing vital healthcare when they need it most. Many will feel that the GP surgery is not a safe space to discuss their health concerns if a GP can prescribe job coaching. This pilot will pile pressure on patients in mental distress who are already suffering.”

Discredited private contractor Maximus

Employment coaches for the pilot are provided by Remploy (the recently privatised employment service for disabled people). Remploy is owned by Maximus, the private company contracted to carry out Work Capability Assessments (taking over from ATOS). Work Capability Assessments have been independently associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing, and found by a judicial review to ‘disadvantage people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism’.

Evidence that Maximus falsified the results of ‘fit for work’ tests has been raised in parliament and their conduct in both the US and UK has been very widely criticised by claimant and disability rights groups.

Maximus was also recently accused of trying to bribe doctors away from the NHS with salaries well above average rates to carry out ‘fit for work’ assessments. It is difficult to imagine any organisation less suited to working in partnership with primary care or with a worse record in relation to mental health and disabled people.

JobcentrePlus Invasion

The Health and Work Programme for Islington explicitly aims to integrate employment support in the ‘map of medicine’ that doctors are pushed to use to inform their decisions. The programme fully intends to get people into work, whatever their circumstances, and – through the new, improved ‘fit note‘ and ‘fit for work’ programme (also delivered by Maximus) – to keep them working, whether they are sick or not.

In a move that will worry many GPs, Islington Health and Wellbeing board intend to make “employment status” part of the Patient Held Record. Every health care professional will soon be obliged to prescribe the work cure, whether or not they (or the patient) believe this is in the patient’s best interests. This is the real meaning of the board’s stated intention to “embed employment into the ‘wiring’ of the healthcare system”.

The Islington pilot is part of DWP efforts to place Jobcentre advisors in libraries, in schools, and even in foodbanks – whose use has skyrocketed in the last six years. The presence of the Jobcentre turns these into places where people are coerced into work, no matter how ill-paid, precarious, or unsuited to their skills and other responsibilities. DPAC and the Mental Health Resistance Network said:

“At a time when some claimants have been driven to suicide by the constant bullying, assessments, threats and sanctions that now form part of the UK’s benefits system, there must be no place in the NHS for Jobcentre busy-bodies. Disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters can and will defeat this appalling attack on the fundamental principle that healthcare professionals should ‘first do no harm’.”

These takeover plans do not end with health. The DWP aspires to ‘join up’ all public services to ‘get local people back to work’, including transport and housing. These developments also support the extension of benefit conditionality – the hoops you have to jump through to be eligible for benefits – to a much wider range of people and a much wider range of circumstances.

Mandatory referral

To date there has been no consultation with patient or claimant groups. It is unclear whether there are safeguards in place e.g. to ensure patients are told that choosing not to see the job coach will have no impact on either their health care or their benefits. A promise from Richard Watts, leader of Islington council, that the scheme is entirely voluntary is not reassuring, given that the whole idea behind the scheme is to ‘promote the idea of employment for people with health conditions’. Both service users and health professionals have every reason to suspect that patients will feel under pressure to agree to see a job coach and that over time the scheme will become mandatory.

A spokesperson from MHRN said:

“our concern is that this scheme will not be voluntary. Over time it will become mandatory and lead to sanctions and loss of benefits, as the doctor becomes part of the DWP scheme to force claimants into low paid or unsuitable jobs that will undermine the patient’s condition.”

The case for mandatory treatment for people with long term conditions (first flagged up in the Conservative Party Manifesto) is currently being reviewed, including whether benefit entitlements should be linked to ‘accepting appropriate treatments or support’. Such a move would have extremely serious implications: consent is invalidated if it is given under duress, for example if it is linked to loss of benefits or the fear of loss of benefits. Nevertheless, this is precisely the direction that government policy is moving in and represents a serious threat to the independence of health professionals and to the human rights of patients.

Unemployment labeled a psychological disorder

The Islington pilot comes at a time when unemployment is being branded as a psychological disorder, for which work is the cure. Welfare-to-work companies bid for lucrative contracts to deliver Entrenched Worklessness Provision to ‘change the hearts and minds’ of unemployed people. There are further plans to locate iCOPE (Camden and Islington Psychological Therapies Service) staff in Islington jobcentres, compromising their clinical judgment by embedding them in a coercive ‘back to work’ environment. Commenting on these developments, Paul Atkinson, a psycho-therapist for thirty years, said:

While health care professionals see the experience of being in sustainable employment as potentially therapeutic for some patients, it’s naive to believe that welfare-to-work policies are led by the interests of the individual unemployed benefit claimant. I am afraid the DWP is a toxic brand for most claimants, and I think for a growing section of the public”.

Such plans also mean placing therapeutic services in a setting responsible for administering the benefits system, including sanctions. A member of Boycott Workfare said:

Support for unemployed people has little to do with helping people apply for jobs or get useful training. Increasingly, it is about making people express a positive attitude to unpaid work and short-term, low wage jobs – under threat of sanctions or other punishments.

Enforcing the work cure

Justification of the Islington pilot relies on a ‘work is good for you’ mythology that denies the reality of the labour market: the stark inequalities in pay, conditions, and security that make it entirely misleading to talk about ‘work’ as if everyone benefits from it.

For many disabled people who do have the capacity to work, gaining a decent quality, fairly paid, stable job does improve their independence and quality of life. And many disabled people do work, and others who can work yearn to have this kind of job.

But this end of the jobs market is often closed to disabled people, with employment discrimination rife and little or no enforcement of the Equality Act. Cuts to government support, (including the access to work budget), which previously enabled disabled people who can work to gain employment, mean that disabled people have to ‘make do’ with low-paid, short term, low-end jobs for exploitative employers. While the government sinks funds into coercive programmes, funding for Motability and Access to Work has been cut – these are schemes that have provided real practical support to disabled people who wanted to obtain or stay in work. A member of Boycott Workfare said:

“we’re always receiving complaints from people who are trying to continue with courses that would give them real skills and qualifications, who face pressure from the DWP to abandon them for workfare or farcical ‘training’ from DWP contractors.”

For growing numbers of people, work does not provide a wage you can live on; for others, it is something feasible on some days, but then not for weeks at a time – a fact that the DWP is determined to ignore. Work is not necessarily ‘good for your mental health‘ either: for many people, especially those in unpaid or low paid, insecure jobs, the workplace is a site of long hours, exploitation, petty tyrannies, bullying and stress.

Mental health services ‘ruining lives’

Islington’s decision to invest in job coaches in GP surgeries comes at a time when mental health services have been neglected, marginalised and under-funded for years, when services are so bad that lives have been “put on hold or ruined” and “thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths” have been caused. It comes at a time when many people are blocked from accessing the services and support they need, including physical health care. People with mental health problems already have a lower life expectancy of nearly 20 years, mainly due to preventable physical illness. Mental Health Resistance Network said:

Where is the parity of esteem that the government keeps shouting about? How are barriers to accessing healthcare addressing our lower life expectancy?”

The pilot has been designed without any consultation whatsoever with mental health, disability rights or claimant groups, who are wholly opposed to the scheme and the values underpinning it. DPAC said:

“patients will simply not engage with the health care system with schemes such as this. They will be too afraid if the result is further pressure, further mental distress and further harm. We can see this scheme, if it is rolled out, having a tragic human cost and driving a patient to suicide if pushed. That is not what a doctor should be involved in. They should support the patient and remember the ethics of why they became a doctor in the first place: to care for the patient and above all else Do No Harm.”

Fighting back

Last year, plans to put Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services in 350 JobCentres led to major protests. 400 mental health professionals signed a letter opposing the imposition of ‘back to work’ therapy and describing linking social security benefits to “state therapy” as ‘totally unacceptable’. The protest against job coaches in GP surgeries is attracting even greater support, as growing numbers of health professionals, patients, activists and concerned members of the public come together to protect the fundamental principle of medical care: first do no harm. We will fight any efforts to merge our health services with services responsible for benefit cuts and benefit sanctions. We call on Islington CCG and its partners to immediately terminate this scheme.

By Lynne Friedli and Robert Stern

First published by Our NHS

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A recent study of poverty in the UK has revealed that parents in poverty are going without necessities to provide for their children. Children are at a higher risk of going without essentials than adults. However, among adults, those who live with children have higher poverty rates than those who do not. Indeed, rates of poverty among this sub-group of adults are higher than among children themselves. Living in a workless household increases the risk of child poverty (mirroring official statistics), but a substantial majority of poor children – 60 per cent – live in households in which at least one adult works. These findings pose a challenge to government policy and rhetoric which positions poor families as trapped by a benefits system which does not provide the appropriate incentives for work, and poor parents as lacking the skills to provide for their children.

Using an individualised poverty measure developed in the UK Poverty and Social Exclusion Study, which takes into account the shared resources within a household (household income), and how resources in the form of ‘socially perceived necessities’ are distributed among household members, we found that 22 per cent of the overall population were in poverty, compared to poverty rates of 27 per cent among children and 32 per cent among adults living with children. These findings have come at a time when the government is seeking to change the way in which child poverty is measured and currently governed by the 2010 Child Poverty Act. The Act was passed with cross-party support in 2010 and introduced several measures of poverty, based on equivalised household income or a combined measure of income and access to essentials.

familyImage credit: mrhayata CC BY-SA

Prior to a House of Lords defeat, the present government was proposing to drop these measures in favour of measuring the proportion of children in workless households, and the educational attainment of pupils at age 16. In doing so, the government is acting against the majority of expert advice it has received on the matter. The future of these proposals is currently unclear. Yet changes to the Child Poverty Act have been proposed amongst a raft of austerity policies. Austerity was initially positioned as a necessary response to the financial crisis with the promise that ‘we’re all in this together’ – that is, no particular section of society should suffer more than another. But in reality the proposed austerity measures, many of which have been defeated in the House of Lords or challenged through the courts, have targeted specific groups more than others. Targeted groups have included:

  • Young people, through removing their entitlement to housing benefit and increasing conditionality on income-related benefits;
  • Families, through restrictions on tax credits and Universal Credit limiting them to two children;
  • Working-age adults (including families), through freezing working-age benefits rates for four years, increasing the rate of reduction in tax credits as earnings increase, reducing the income threshold for tax credits, and lowering the benefits cap;
  • Disabled people, through the reduction of Employment and Support Allowance for those in the work-related activity group to Job Seekers’ Allowance rates.

Redistributive policies are rooted in the idea that structures within society unfairly disadvantage some people and groups. In contrast, individual and cultural explanations of poverty are rooted in the idea that poverty is the result of poor individual choices and behaviours. These may be ‘transmitted’ from one generation to the next resulting in ‘cultures of poverty’.

In contrast to Labour policies prior to 2010 which were anti-cyclical in nature and favoured (at least in part) redistribution, Coalition and now Conservative policy and rhetoric indicates a preference for individual and cultural explanations of poverty. This can be seen in decreasing social security entitlements and increasing conditionality. It can also be seen in how poor people are described: they live in ‘troubled families’, and may be ‘skivers’ who need motivating to ‘take responsibility’. Extra money is seen as unlikely to help, as ‘feckless’ parents may spend it on drink, drugs and gambling rather than on improving their children’s well-being. As a result, the problem of how to address child poverty is transformed from one best addressed through providing additional resources to poor families, to one best addressed by helping poor parents to overcome personal shortcomings.

To assess the Conservative approach, we examined access to resources and economising behaviours among adults and children in poor households. We found that very few adults – around 1 per cent – had adequate resources themselves and lived with children who did not have adequate resources. In contrast, we found that 16 per cent of adults went without necessities themselves, but lived with children who did not go without necessities. This suggests that adults living on very limited resources may be sacrificing their own needs in order to provide for their children. Additionally, adults living in households with poor children were much more likely to engage in economising behaviours and many reported that they had:

  • Skimped on food so others would have enough to eat;
  • Bought second-hand clothes instead of new;
  • Continued to wear worn-out clothes;
  • Cut back on visits to the hairdresser or barber;
  • Postponed visits to the dentist;
  • Spent less on hobbies;
  • Cut back on social visits, going to the pub or eating out.

Perhaps most striking of these was our finding that 69 per cent of adults living with poor children reported skimping on their own food so that others would have enough to eat. While the House of Lords defeat is to be welcomed, the future of the Child Poverty Act remains unclear. The fact that parents are having to make these sacrifices, in many cases despite being in work, challenges both Conservative explanations of poverty and the rationale for proposals to remove income and material deprivation from poverty measures. Indeed, increasing the financial resources available to families to help ensure decent living standards for all is indicated.

First published on the British Politics and Policy blog

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In the 1976 film All the President’s Men, the informant, Deep Throat, advised the investigative journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, to “follow the money” if they wished to get to get to the bottom of what was going on. And the same advice is likely to apply if we are to evaluate national and local government policy priorities in addressing inequalities.

The vast bulk of public spending in Wales is undertaken by local health boards and local authorities. Probably correctly, the Welsh Government has decided that “big is best” in terms of the size of the these bodies to delivery these services.

Whatever the advantages in bigger delivery bodies they can can create problems in terms of transparency and public accountability as power is concentrated further from communities and citizens. And as our public bodies become bigger and more centralised “following the money” becomes more and more difficult.

A substantial amount of Welsh Government funding is allocated to our health boards and local authorities through needs based formulae. But once the money makes its way to these bodies it is very difficult to monitor if it is being spent in line with the allocation principles. And as these recipient bodies get bigger this task becomes even more difficult.

Local authorities in Wales do not like hypothecation of Welsh Government funds. They wish to be free to make local decisions in line with local needs. But the methodology of resource allocation at a local level is often very opaque and it is very difficult to hold our councils to account in terms of their spending priorities.

In this era of austerity there is no doubt that our most disadvantaged citizens and communities are bearing the heaviest burden. The Welsh Government is working hard to mitigate this though a range of policies but it is crucial that this intention is mirrored where it really matters — at the front-line grass-roots level.

At the end of the day it is outcomes that matter most and it is excellent that programmes such as the Foundation Phase and Flying Start are subject to regular independent evaluation. But in many cases evidence of outcomes can take some time to emerge. In these situations intermediate or proxy measures have to be used and resource allocation ( qualitatively and quantitatively) is often an important guide.

Our most vulnerable citizens and communities are more dependent on public services. They are therefore the most vulnerable when vicious austerity programmes are being implemented. It is vital that effective means are put in place to make sure that our reduced levels of public investment goes to where the need is greatest. Our public bodies must have clear and transparent funding streams in place and that both local and national scrutiny take place to ensure that best outcomes are delivered.

Welsh Health boards cover populations from 132k in Powys to 678k in Betsi Cadwallader. Within health boards 4% of Powys’ population is in the poorest 20% compared to 39% in Cwm Taf and 27% in ABMU. But do we know that within these health boards that resources are allocated in line with this level of need at a local level?

In the recently published policy on primary care workforce, A Planned Primary Care Workforce for Wales, the Welsh Government has highlighted the importance of the emerging 64 “primary care clusters” as a basis for health care planning. These clusters have a population size between 25k and 100k. They are therefore a more sensitive unit size for health care planning on the one hand but also for measuring the level of health care investment and outcomes. Some work has already started on this and the Workforce policy is committed to building on this.

As this information becomes more available it is important that Health Boards “follow the money” and resources to ensure that their allocation is in line with needs and is producing the required outcomes.

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There are clear links between childhood poverty and adult health. Even if one manages to escape from the situation of poverty as one grows into adulthood, a disadvantaged start in life can leave lasting health problems, both physical and psychological. Studies have shown that children living in poverty are less healthy in nearly every way than those in well-off families, and even small differences in economic and social status can have a significant effect on childhood health.

Disadvantaged from the start

Statistically, poor mothers are more likely to have underweight babies, and as their children grow, they are likely to be an average of three centimetres shorter than their better off counterparts. This is not genetic, but a failure to reach full height potential caused by factors such as inadequate nutrition and unsuitable living conditions.

As well as this initial handicap, poor children are also far more prone to such conditions as respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, nutritional deficiencies, dental problems and impaired eyesight. Again, nutrition and living conditions are mostly to blame, as poor families struggle to afford consistently healthy food in adequate amounts, and often live in homes that may be cold, damp, affected by mould and so on. Healthcare and suitable clothing are also harder to afford.

Psychological, emotional and developmental disorders should not be discounted either, often caused by the family stress that is an inevitable result of economic hardship. Finally, we must not forget that poor children likely live in a harsher environment with fewer basic amenities; statistically they are more likely to suffer childhood injuries in accidents.

The link to adult health

Medical conditions such as asthma, acquired in childhood, are hard to shake off even when one’s living situation is greatly improved. Similarly, physical strains on the young body can weaken it for life. Many disadvantaged children do not manage to escape the poverty trap and so remain poor and unhealthy. This obviously puts greater strain on the health service, with higher costs and higher numbers of individuals requiring more care in later life.

Tackling child poverty in the UK

Successive governments have vowed to combat or eradicate child poverty in the UK. In 1999, Tony Blair pledged to end child poverty in a generation by moving more families off benefits and into work. The coalition and current Conservative governments have adopted similar strategies, emphasising improvement to educational opportunities and living standards alongside encouragement to work full-time.

Nevertheless, charities such as the Prince’s Trust have taken up much of the burden. The Trust helped over 750,000 young people turn their lives around between its beginnings in 1976 and 2013. It is helped in this work by a number of generous donors, including Lord Laidlaw. Laidlaw has donated over £2m to the Trust. He also founded the Laidlaw Youth Project in 2004 to help disadvantaged youngsters in Scotland. Lord Laidlaw believes education is the best way out of poverty and has supported several Scottish schools as well as providing scholarship funds to universities.

There can be no doubt that poverty is linked to poor health, especially for children. Health problems in childhood can blight one for a lifetime, to the detriment of society as a whole. It is in all our interests to make childhood poverty history.

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