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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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3 Living in poverty and the effect on children’s health

As discussed in Session 2, poverty is a global issue that affects children in low- and high-income countries, it profoundly impacts on children’s health and is a cause of inequality. People who lived during the Second World War (1939–45) and were alive before the creation of the National Health Service (1948) may be surprised that we still have an unacceptable number of children living in poverty in high-income countries like those of the UK. Figures from the Social Metrics Commission (2020) state that 4.5 million children in the UK, that is 33% of the population, are living in poverty. This means that in an average class of 30 children, as may as 10 children are affected by poverty, and in turn, their health is being negatively affected.

A black-and-white photograph of children playing in the street
Figure 5 Children playing in the street in a poor inner-city area

Understanding poverty

Understanding the concept of poverty in contemporary times is a complex issue. Statistics that help to quantify the number of people who live in poverty frequently look at economic status and the amount of money that a family has available to spend. There is no universal definition of poverty (UK Parliament, 2022) and this can lead to misunderstandings about what living in poverty can mean for those affected. Instead of looking at poverty simply in terms of the amount of money that is available, the Social Metric Commission (cited in UK Parliament, 2022) suggest that we view the level of poverty as being ‘the extent to which someone’s resources meet their needs’.

Defining poverty and understanding its effect on children’s health may be less important than understanding how and why children who live in poverty have poorer health than children who live in affluent families who have resources to meet the needs of their children. The following section looks at poverty in an inner-city of England.