Child poverty affects many aspects of children’s lives and their future social mobility. Research identifies a range of detrimental outcomes for children which are associated with child poverty as well as the key barriers to moving out of poverty. Studies also suggest that current policy is unlikely to meet child poverty target.

Key findings

  • The detrimental outcomes for children found to be associated with child poverty are extensive and range from mental illness to low educational attainment. A recent study reveals that by age five children from the poorest fifth of homes in the UK are already on average nearly a year behind when measured by their expected years of development.
  • Poverty in and soon after childbirth is associated with a much higher risk of a low birth-weight, maternal depression in infancy and lower chances that the mother will try breastfeeding. All these are known to be associated with poor outcomes in the rest of childhood and in adulthood.
  • Children growing up in poor families have lower educational attainment, have higher incidence of behavioural problems and risky behaviours and have the early signals of latter life health problems (eg, obesity) than children growing up in richer families. Such gaps create a major contributing factor to patterns of social immobility, health inequalities and poverty, including child poverty in the next generation.
  • The barriers to moving out of poverty include employment, educational failure, poor health and family stability. These barriers also have a secondary role because once they are overcome they prevent people from slipping into poverty.
  • Static measures of poverty or material deprivation are increasingly perceived to be inadequate tools for analysis and policy debate. Longitudinal measures of poverty are thus vital to distinguish persistent, recurrent and occasional poverty in terms of the experience itself, the type of people affected, and the long shadow it casts on future achievements.
  • The main barriers to people moving out of poverty appear to be their educational performance; their difficulty in getting into higher education; and their poor labour market attachment after completing compulsory education.
  • Stable employment is another crucial determinant of mobility as it proves to be the main defence against poverty. For lone parents with young children, a barrier to moving out of poverty is often the lack of availability of good quality, affordable childcare.
  • Self-employed families with children have higher living standards than employed families with children with similar incomes, and that, for all work types, families with the lowest incomes do not have the lowest living standards, on average.
  • Public spending to deal with the effects of child poverty is some £12 billion a year, about 60 per cent of which is spent on personal social services, school education, and police and criminal justice.
  • Changes in the labour earnings of the household head account for the largest share of exits from poverty as well as entries into poverty. This suggests that the current emphasis on worklessness and family instability as important barriers to escaping poverty and long term disadvantage is well-placed.
  • Researchers suggest that the targets set in the Child Poverty Act are extremely challenging and that it might be more productive to set realistic targets with concrete plans for achieving them.