Three million children face life of poverty

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN BEAR the brunt of poverty in Britain, with more than three million living in households that exist on less than half the average income, according to a new report.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has brought together more than 40 indicators of poverty which it is urging the Government to publish in the same way as the Bank of England publishes reports on inflation.

The indicators, compiled by the New Policy Institute for the foundation, include households without work for more than two years and those with long-term illness, and suicide rates. They could be used to update annually how well the Government is combating poverty, said the authors.

They reveal that 10 millionlive in relative poverty, and while four million working-age adults would like jobs, they cannot get them. Although old age is no longer synonymous with poverty, 60 per cent of pensioners remain in the bottom 40 per cent of income distribution.

Around 30 per cent of people aged 45-64 have a disability or report ill health. The figures rose by a million between 1991 and 1996, with manual workers twice as likely to suffer as the professional classes.

"This is the first time that all these indicators have been brought together and they can be used to make a complete framework which will give us the big picture on poverty and social exclusion," said Catherine Howarth, one of the authors.

The foundation is particularly concerned with the number of children growing up in poverty, with more than 2.5 million living in workless households. Those living in households below half the average income is 3.3 million.

Those born in the bottom two social classes are 25 per cent more likely to be underweight as babies and are twice as likely to die in childhood accidents.

Worryingly, after falling in the early 1990s, the number of under-age girls having babies is at its highest ever level, with 4,279 giving birth in 1996. Abortions among this age group run at a similar rate to births.

Young women leaving careare disproportionately represented among teenage pregnancy figures, with between one in four and one in seven young women leaving carepregnant, or as mothers already.

The number of children in young offender institutions has risen by nearly 40 per cent since 1993, to almost 11,000 in 1997. Although girls make up only 3.5 per cent of this group the number has risen proportionately much faster than for boys, almost doubling between 1990 and 1997.

"Children do disproportionally badly," said Ms Howarth.

"What's really worrying is that we know from research that a bad start in life is really hard to shake off. If the Government do not put the focus on children they are storing up trouble for the future."

The researchers called for the Government to adopt the indicators so that the scale of the challenge to achieve greater social cohesion can be better known. They suggested that the Office for National Statistics could carry out the annual survey.

"Just as the Bank of England's regular report on inflation has helped to raise the standard of debate about economic policy, so a regular poverty and social exclusion report would increase public awareness and understanding of the needs of a significant minority of the population," said Dr Peter Kenway, director of the New Policy Institute.

"An official but independent report on progress would underline the Government's commitment to meeting those needs."

Changes In

Past Year

Getting worse:

Gap between low and median income

Long-term recipients of benefits

Births to girls conceiving under 16

Children in young offenders' institutions

Young adults starting drug treatment

Insecure employment

Older people needing help to live at home

Spending on travel

Getting better:

Children's accidental deaths

Children whose parents divorce

Individuals wanting work

Adults on low rates of pay

Pensioners with no private income

Older people without a telephone

People lacking a bank or building society account


Mortgage arrears