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:
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.”
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
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