Poverty has touched the lives of more than half of the UK’s millennium generation

28 November 2014

More than half of the children born in the UK at the turn of the millennium experienced poverty at some point during their first 11 years, a new study shows.

Researchers at the Institute of Education, London, also found that more than one in six of the 13,000 ‘children of the new century’ have been brought up in persistently poor families.

Children living in Wales and Northern Ireland were more likely to be poor at age 11 and to have been persistently poor, as were children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, according to the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS).

“Our findings are concerning because poverty is undoubtedly bad for children,” said Professor Lucinda Platt, who led the age 11 survey. “It can have a negative effect on their educational attainment, health and behaviour in childhood, and can have adverse consequences in adulthood. Long durations of poverty put children at particular risk of poorer outcomes during their school years and in later life.”

The MCS has collected information on family income and other aspects of children’s material wellbeing on five occasions to date – at age 9 months, and 3, 5, 7 and 11 years. These surveys show that:

  • More than half of the children (53%) were living in income poverty when at least one of the five MCS surveys was conducted.
  • Around 17 per cent have been ‘persistently poor’ – the term the researchers use to describe those who have been poor at four or five of the MCS surveys.

Children living in Wales and Northern Ireland were more likely to be persistently poor than those living in England and Scotland (21% and 19% compared to 16% and 13%).

Persistent poverty was also particularly marked among children who were in a workless family (50%) or were being brought up by a lone parent (30%). Those who had a disabled parent (26%), were themselves disabled (22%), or were from any minority ethnic group except Indian were also more likely to be persistently poor.

Rates of persistent poverty ranged from 20 per cent for Mixed-ethnicity groups to 56 per cent for Pakistani and Bangladeshi children.

“Lone parent families are more likely to be workless, and it is this that puts them at a higher risk of persistent poverty,” Professor Platt explained. “Similarly, disability is associated with poverty because of the impact it can have on employment.

“However, children from minority ethnic groups were also more likely to be persistently poor than White children, even after accounting for whether one or both parents were employed. This reflects, for instance, the lower average wages of Pakistani and Bangladeshi adults.”

The MCS offers a particularly useful picture of contemporary child poverty as it gathers information on not only incomes but levels of material deprivation.

MCS parents who took part in the age 11 survey were asked if they or their child spent money on a particular item or activity, and if not whether that was because they could not afford to or did not want to. For example, parents were asked whether they were able to afford an annual holiday for themselves and their child – that did not involve staying with relatives.

Questions of this kind enabled researchers to calculate a deprivation score for each child. This showed that the majority of MCS children were not suffering from material deprivation. However, children who were persistently poor did appear to be substantially more deprived.

There were, however, different levels of deprivation even among the persistently poor. For example, children living in single parent families who were persistently poor appeared to experience more acute deprivation than children in persistently poor families with two parents.

The MCS survey also showed that although most children were happy with their life overall, regardless of their financial circumstances, children who were persistently poor gave themselves a slightly lower-than-average happiness rating.

“Future research could investigate why material deprivation is less marked among some poor families than others,” Professor Platt said. “How far families manage to ensure their children’s wellbeing even in the face of poverty is another important subject for further research.”

Read the full report and briefing paper

Briefing paper: Child poverty and deprivation: Initial findings from the Millennium Cohort Study Age 11 survey (PDF)

Full report: Mostafa, T. and Platt, L. (2014) Poverty and deprivation. In Platt, L. (ed) Millennium Cohort Study Age 11 Survey Initial Findings. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS).

Podcast: Experiences of child poverty among the millennium generation – with Prof Lucinda Platt

Further information

David Budge
020 7911 5349
07881 415362

Meghan Rainsberry
020 7612 6530

Notes for editors

  1. The Millennium Cohort Study is following children born in the UK between September 2000 and January 2002. The study is managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, London. The five surveys of cohort members conducted so far – at ages 9 months and 3, 5, 7 and 11 years – have built up a uniquely detailed portrait of the children of the new century. The study has collected information on diverse aspects of their lives, including behaviour, cognitive development, health, schooling, housing and parents’ employment and education.
  2. The Millennium Cohort Study’s survey of 11-year-olds was carried out by Ipsos MORI between January 2012 and February 2013. Trained fieldworkers conducted 13,287 interviews with the children and their parents/guardians. Data from this survey and previous MCS surveys can be downloaded from the UK Data Service.
  3. Families were deemed to be in poverty if they were living on less than 60 per cent of the median income of all families in the MCS.
  4. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and a consortium of government departments, co-ordinated by the Office for National Statistics and including the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Department for Transport, the Home Office, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
  5. The Institute of Education is a world-leading university specialising in education and the social sciences. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 7,000 students and 800 staff. In the 2014 QS World University Rankings, the Institute was ranked number one for education worldwide. It has been shortlisted in the ‘University of the Year’ category of the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) awards. In January 2014, the Institute was recognised by Ofsted for its ‘outstanding’ initial teacher training across primary, secondary and further education. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be ‘world leading’. On 2 December 2014, the Institute will become a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education. www.ioe.ac.uk
  6. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. www.esrc.ac.uk

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