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Study highlights scale of child poverty challenge

11 June 2007

The scale and complexity of the child poverty challenge facing the Brown Government is highlighted by a new study of more than 15,500 three-year-olds.

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The scale and complexity of the child poverty challenge facing the Brown Government is highlighted by a new study of more than 15,500 three-year-olds.

It suggests that 72 per cent of those with single parents have been growing up in poverty. The proportion of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in the survey whose families were living below the poverty line is almost as high (68 and 67 per cent respectively).

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the Institute of Education, University of London, calculate that 26 per cent of the three-year-olds they surveyed between 2003 and 2005 were living in poverty. The estimate is based on the CLS’s own measure of poverty, which takes income and family size into account.

Family poverty was higher in Wales (30 per cent) and Northern Ireland (29 per cent) than in England (25 per cent) or Scotland (21 per cent). But differences between ethnic groups were even greater.

Just under one in four White and Indian families reported incomes below the poverty line, compared with 42 per cent of Black Africans and Black Caribbeans. Black parents were no less qualified than White parents – in fact Black Africans were more likely to have degrees. But a third of Black African (32 per cent) and almost half the Black Caribbean children (47 per cent) were being brought up by lone mothers. By contrast, only 14 per cent of White children and 5 per cent of Indians had lone parents. This partly explains the difference in poverty rates, the researchers say.

Fewer than one in ten Bangladeshi and Pakistani children had lone mothers but their parents were less likely to be employed and more likely to have large families. Almost a third of the Bangladeshi children had three or more siblings, compared with only 8 per cent of Whites and 5 per cent of Indians.

Professor Heather Joshi, director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, acknowledged that the elimination of child poverty was a key aim of government policy but said that there was clearly cause for concern. “Our Millennium Cohort Study also shows that although many children living in difficult circumstances are doing well, too many of them are lagging behind their more advantaged peers in terms of cognitive development,” she said. “They are also more likely to suffer disability and ill health and to experience more problems with vision and hearing, as well as asthma and other longstanding conditions, chronic infections and injuries. 

“For a wide range of reasons therefore – not least equity – we should be concerned about the number of children still living in poverty.”

Notes for editors:

1) The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre based at the Institution of Education. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The Millennium Cohort Study is co-funded by a number of government departments.
 
2) The second sweep of the Millennium Cohort Study collected information from 15,590 families of children born across the UK in 2000-2 when they reached the age of three. Almost all of these families (14,898) had been in the first survey when the children were nine-months-old. An additional 692 families were recruited for the second survey in England who had been eligible for the first survey but not included. The study’s first sweep, carried out during 2001-2, laid the foundations for this major new longitudinal research resource, involving a year-long cohort of around 19,000 babies. It recorded the circumstances of pregnancy and birth, the all-important early months of life, and the social and economic backgrounds of the families into which the children were born. The second survey data allow researchers for the first time to chart the changing circumstances of these children and their families and offer some direct measurements of the children’s development at the age of three which can be related to their earlier experiences. The sample was designed to provide adequate numbers from areas with high proportions of minority-ethnic residents (in England) and high child poverty, as well as each country in the UK.

3) The poverty threshold used in the Millennium Cohort Study was 60 per cent of national median net income before housing costs. This resembles the conventional relative poverty line used in the government’s Households Below Average Income series but does not reproduce this measure exactly. Our measure of equivalised family income gives greater weight to the costs of young children and is based on family rather than household income (the latter could include the income of other adults in the household).