1138 GMT February 19, 2020
At the end of 2018 millions of children are trapped in poverty in rich nations like Britain and the US.
We should call it what it is: A crisis, theguardian.com wrote.
How can it be that there is no public outcry despite the regular headlines showing just how many children live in families that can barely scrape by? Where are the mass protests about child poverty, or have we really become so desensitized by the juggernaut of Tory austerity in Britain, and to relentless attacks on welfare in the US, that we are no longer shocked by the desperation of these youngsters and their parents?
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) latest poverty report, half a million more children are living in poverty in Britain than five years ago. Under what circumstances is this considered tolerable? The government is clearly wrong to say that work is a route out of poverty.
The JRF study found that much of the rise in child poverty has been driven by increases in in-work poverty and that between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the child poverty rate and the number of children in poverty in working families rose more steeply than at any time in the last 20 years. And as the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, pointed out last week, child poverty was declining before 2010, now it is rising again. When families cannot make ends meet because of sluggish wage growth, ruthless benefits cuts and a rising cost of living, children suffer.
The homelessness charity Shelter estimates that 130,000 children in Britain will be living in temporary accommodation during the festive season — that’s five kids in every school living in unfit or substandard circumstances with no security of tenure. Meanwhile, the charity Action for Children says the ‘double blow’ of austerity and universal credit is exacerbating hardship. A million children under 10 in England and Scotland are facing ‘Dickensian’ material deprivation during the festive season, the charity says. And spare a thought for families in the north of England, where public spending took a bigger hit than any other region since 2009-2010. A study, by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North, reported that up to 2 million adults and 1 million children live in poverty in the north, yet average weekly pay has fallen by £21 since 2008.
In the US, child poverty has, as the latest report from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) shows, also remained persistently high. It found that 41 percent (29.8 million children) were in low-income households and living on the brink of poverty in 2016. This included more than five million infants and toddlers under three. Around one in five children were defined as poor. Although under-18s account for 23 percent of the US population they represent 32 percent of all people in poverty.
The report said that while the official child poverty rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the number of children left vulnerable, (including like Britain in families where someone is in work) is a serious cause for concern. The younger a child is in the US the higher the chance of it being poor. As Heather Koball, the NCCP director of family economic security, said of the findings: “If anything is clear from these statistics, it’s that a rising tide does not lift all boats when it comes to our young people.”
Meanwhile, almost 40 percent of children in the US spend at least one year in poverty before they turn 18, according to the Urban Institute think tank — a Washington D.C.-based think tank that carries out economic and social policy research.
Over the past year, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights issued damning reports after missions to the US and the UK. His conclusions were stark and unequivocal. In nations as wealthy as these, the persistence of extreme poverty, let alone among children, is a political choice. He is absolutely right. For the sake of millions of children, complacency and normalization of impoverishment is simply not an option.
* Mary O’Hara is the author of Austerity Bites and Los Angeles Press Club International Columnist of the Year.