Poverty is ‘making children sick’, say children’s doctors

Poverty and low income is seriously affecting the health of UK children according to paediatricians – and any new Government must tackle health inequalities or risk storing up health problems for future generations. That’s according to a new report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) launched today (11 May 2017).

Poverty and child health: views from the frontline, is based on a survey of more than 250 paediatricians across the country, whose comments provide an insight into the grave reality of life for the millions of UK children living in poverty.

Latest figures show that more than one in four (nearly 4 million) children in the UK live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade 2.

The report looks at a number of areas including food insecurity, poor housing and worry, stress and stigma – and their effect on the health of children.  

It reveals that:

  • more than two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed said poverty and low income contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with
  • housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two thirds of respondents. 
  • more than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health amongst children they treat 3
  • 40% had difficulty discharging a child in the last 6 months because of concerns about housing or food insecurity
  • more than 50% of respondents said that financial stress and worry contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“Day in, day out doctors see the damage rising poverty does to children’s health. Their disquiet comes through in the survey findings and should sound alarms for the next government. Low family incomes, inadequate housing and cuts to support services are jeopardising the health of our most vulnerable children.

"We can and must do better to protect the well-being of future generations. Re-instating the UK’s poverty-reduction targets would be an obvious place to start.”

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Poverty has a devastating effect on child health and this report makes disturbing reading. The health impact on children living in poverty is significant – whether that’s increased likelihood of respiratory problems, mental ill-health or obesity - than children living in more affluent areas.  

“Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed feel the problem is getting worse, with the combination of increasing poverty, housing problems and cuts to services meaning more families are struggling.”  

The RCPCH and CPAG are calling on whoever forms the next Government to tackle poverty urgently through: 
  • the restoration of binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy
  • the adoption of a ‘child health in all policies’ approach to decision making and policy development, with Her Majesty’s Treasury disclosing information about the impact of the Chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty and inequality
  • the reversal of public health cuts to ensure universal early years services, including health visiting and school nursing, are prioritised and supported financially, with additional targeted help for children and families experiencing poverty
  • the reversal of cuts to universal credit which will leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off.

As one survey respondent said: “We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the UK if we leave children behind. Poverty makes children sick.”

Download full report (PDF, 1.1 MB) or read our summary here.