CHILDREN growing up in poverty in the UK are being moved to as many as nine homes before the age of nine, the Children’s Society has warned in a new report.
Growing up in Hard Times, published on Monday in partnership with Bath University, is based on case studies of 60 children living in poverty, over three years. Making long journeys to school; having to stay indoors in unsafe neighbourhoods; settling into new environments; and sustaining friendships after moving to a new school or area were all cited as recurrent difficulties by the children, in interviews conducted for the report.
One nine-year-old said that he had moved house with his parents at least nine times, and attended four different schools. Reasons for families’ moving included poor-quality housing, living closer to relatives, escaping harassment from estranged fathers, violent neighbourhoods, family breakdown, bullying, eviction, and parents’ moving in with new partners, or into rehabilitation.
One girl, aged 11, said: “My mum had to go into rehab . . . so I almost got sent to care, but luckily my granddad took me in; so I ended up living with [him] for a few years.” Another girl, five, said of her area: “Some neighbours are horrible; we can’t play outside, there’s rubbish on the streets.”
Children at secondary school said that they had been punished for breaking school rules on uniform and other kit, because their family could not afford the correct clothing, and said that they would go hungry at lunch because their free-school-meal vouchers did not buy them enough food.
Asking their parents for money was not an option, some children said, because they knew that their parents had little to spare. One nine-year-old girl said that she and her brothers would take turns to beg strangers or friends for money when their family finances reached breaking point.
Another girl said: “What if, one day, where my mum’s so much in debt that we get evicted and then I come back from school and all our stuff is outside? And then we’ve got nowhere to live.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said that these were “pressures that no child should have to deal with. This lack of stability and security is hugely damaging to children’s well-being, and could have long-term repercussions for their mental health.”
There are currently about four million children living in poverty in the UK. The report calls for affordable housing, teacher training on dealing with child poverty to be assessed in OFSTED reports, local government funding, and an end to the current freeze on child benefit and tax credits.