Nearly half of London's children in poverty

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The Independent Online

The first investigation into what living in London is like for children has concluded that it is a "capital divided", with almost half its youngsters excluded from the benefits of one of the greatest cities in the world.

Some children enjoy a safe, secure and supportive upbring-ing, with access to the widest range of opportunities, but 43 per cent live in poverty, a higher proportion than in any other part of the country, says The State of London's Children report published yesterday.

Poverty is the chief cause of higher rates of ill health, accidents and deaths in infancy suffered by London's children. School exclusions are higher, and academic performance is lower in the capital, and housing is more overcrowded and child abuse more common.

"London remains a capital divided, with huge variations in wealth which impact directly on its 1.65 million children," says the report, the first from the Office of Children's Rights Commissioner (OCRC) for London.

The OCRC was set up two years ago by the Children's Rights Alliance for England, representing 200 voluntary organisations, to bring pressure on the Government for a children's rights commissioner to protect their interests and monitor proposed legislation for its impact on children.Its advisory board includes children aged 10 to 17, recruited from a range of backgrounds, who helped select the staff.

A Children's Commissioner for Wales, Peter Clarke, was appointed to the Welsh Assembly last year after a recommendation of the Waterhouse report into the North Wales child abuse scandal. An OCRC spokeswoman said the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had agreed to develop a children's strategy for London and the aim was to extend this nationally by appointing a children's rights commissioner for England.

The report has eight themes: poverty, health, education, leisure, transport, family, housing and crime. In each area it highlighted how inequalities disadvantage children at the lower end of the scale. Children living in poverty are five times more likely to die in accidents and three times more likely to have mental health problems than those in homes with an average income. The number in poverty may be even higher than the official figures suggest because refugees, asylum-seekers and young homeless people are not included.

More than a quarter of schoolchildren in London are eligible for free school meals, rising to two-thirds in some boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, higher than in any other region of the country. High property prices mean people spend a higher proportion of their income on housing in the capital than elsewhere. Overcrowding is greater and families with children are the most overcrowded. The poorer the quality of accommodation, the greater the likelihood of accidents and infectious diseases.

The report says drug use is no worse in London than elsewhere and although crime is high in inner London, young people are more likely to be its victims than its perpetrators.