Poverty Household Children

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The relationship between poverty and childhood wellbeing in Great Britain


This paper explores the relationship between childhood well-being and poverty. Using structural equation modelling a multidimensional picture of child well-being is developed which is linked to previous work on multidimensional poverty indicators at household level (Tomlinson et al. forthcoming). Following a brief literature review of childhood poverty and well-being research, there follows an analysis of several waves of the British Household Panel Study – a valuable source of data collected directly from children as well as adults in the same households. The paper attempts to map the experience of poverty at household level and relate it to the child’s well-being. Rather than seeing poverty as a facet of child well-being, as other researchers often do, this work conceptually distinguishes between the two and shows how they are linked.

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Following the literature review various structural equation models are estimated that measure different dimensions of child well-being. These dimensions are then related to other aspects of the child’s life including the experience of poverty, age and gender, household composition, income, parental education and employment status. The effects of poverty are broken down into more detailed dimensions and the relative impact of each dimension is discussed. Finally, the models are used to inform targeting strategies with respect to child welfare policy. Crucially the differential impact of various potential policy instruments is assessed through the models.

Mainstream child poverty research

Since New Labour took office and pledged to eliminate child poverty by 2020 a myriad of policy changes and political statements has been issued to address the problems associated with poverty and deprivation during childhood. Indeed the costs of child poverty and its immediate and future effects are becoming increasingly alarming. For instance, recent research has found that poor children are more likely to get into trouble inside and outside school and more likely to be involved in drug abuse (ONS 2002). The direct costs of this are estimated to be considerable. For example:

  • £6000 for a 6 month non-custodial sentence
  • £21000 for a custodial sentence of 6 months
  • Cost of attending pupil referral unit: £10000/year
  • Drug programmes cost on average £15000/person over a 4 year period

(Source: Godfrey et al. 2004)

Much of the literature relating to child poverty in the UK has focussed around two areas: first the identification of households where risk is greatest and second, the so-called ‘scarring’ of children and the transmission of disadvantage into adulthood. With respect to the former it is now well known that poor children in particular are more likely to come from the following types of household:

  • Workless households
  • Benefit dependent households
  • Lone parent families
  • Low income households
  • Families with younger children are more likely to be poor
  • Large families
  • Ethnic minority households
  • Those in rented accommodation


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