The scary truths about child poverty

sad little girlWhen my daughter was born, along with all the happiness and joy that a newborn baby brings, came the huge feeling of responsibility.

Instead of just being responsible for ourselves – progressing our careers; making sure bills were paid; generally making sure we had everything we needed in life – we were also responsible for raising another person. What an incredible feeling!

The reality of this hit us a few weeks later after spending 24 hours a day with our baby, feeding her, trying to get her to sleep and trying to stop her from crying!

Everything quite rightfully became about her. And then there was all this other stuff we had going on in our lives to be responsible about. It was all quite overwhelming!

It was at that point when we knew that being in a lot of debt was actually a very dangerous situation to be in. Previously we had just plodded along, making minimum payments and letting our money (or lack of it) do its own thing.

We managed to get the necessary baby stuff together together before our little girl was born and most of it was second hand. So we were ok for that sort of thing. But what if the bills became too much and we couldn’t afford to put food on the table or keep our home warm enough? The thought of literally not being able to support our child and meet her basic needs was perhaps a little extreme but it certainly made us rethink our priorities and gave us a kick up the backside in terms of paying off debts.

The facts about child poverty in the UK

Unfortunately for some families, this isn’t just extreme but is actually a harsh reality. In fact, 3.6 million children in the UK are living in poverty. That’s 1 in 3 children. And 58% of these children living in poverty are from families where someone works! Typically there are certain groups that are affected by poverty more than others:

  1. Lone parents
  2. Large families
  3. Parents or children with disabilities
  4. Black and minority ethnic groups
  5. Working families
  6. Other vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers, young people living independently, workless households and children living in poor housing

Often when we think about poverty, we imagine developing countries with no amenities and the horror of all sorts of preventable diseases. But worryingly, poverty happens under our noses. If a person doesn’t have access to the type of diet, living conditions and amenities which are customary to the society they live in, they may be living in poverty.

Families on low incomes will inevitably have to go without certain things but some can’t even afford to heat their homes regularly and struggle to pay their bills. One unexpected bill may mean that a family can’t afford to feed their children. Some families living in poverty may only have £12 to live on per day per person (for all bills and living costs). Such families may turn in desperation to credit cards and payday loans to try to get by or worse – their health and well-being may deteriorate.

Children living in poverty are more prone to illnesses and are less likely to do well in school than children living in wealthy families. This in turn affects the child’s life chances and the cycle of poverty becomes hard to break. You can read the full report and see these stats around child poverty from Barnardo’s, a leading children’s charity in the UK.

Debt could be a major factor in tipping some families over the edge and into a life of poverty. Luckily, because we budget carefully nowadays, we can afford to eat reasonably well and pay our bills. We don’t splash out on gifts anymore but we’re not too worried about the effect that will have on our daughter as we hope to teach her to be as frugal as we are (and teach her to enjoy living a frugal life)!

We have a little pot of money where we save for logs for our fire all year round so that in Winter, the costs of keeping warm aren’t so painful for us. So we’re doing well, we can make all of our repayments but if we didn’t have our debts to contend with, we’d be a fair bit better off and be able to sleep a little easier at night!

What help is out there for families on low incomes (and/or in debt)?
1. Living in good conditions is a priority

At the end of the day, paying for gas, electric and food is more important than making payments on debts. Whilst debts can seem like a huge mountain of problems especially when receiving threatening letters from creditors or bailiffs, actually surviving is much more important. That means living in good conditions, eating properly and making sure that the whole family’s health and well-being is taken care of.

If you or your family are experiencing a real crisis and are struggling for food, then help is available in the form of Food Banks. The Trussell Trust in the UK offers a minimum of 3 days emergency food and support for people in crisis. Feeding America offers a similar service in the US.

If you can’t afford to make the repayments on debts, speaking to creditors or entering into a Debt Management Plan may help to reduce monthly repayments and more vitally help make ends meet.

2. Financial support may be available (in the UK)

Although there are too many scavengers who are abusing the benefits system in the UK (such as those who literally can’t be bothered to get a job), there are people out there who really need financial assistance and we’re lucky that our benefits system is there for those people. Depending on household income, some families are entitled to benefits in the form of working tax credits, child tax credits, disability allowance etc. You can find out if you’re eligible for any benefits here.

3. Tell someone

If you think you’re in trouble with money and/or your family is suffering, then help is available in many places. Talking to someone is your first step whether it be a friend or family member or a organisation dedicated to supporting people in financial crisis. The following websites may be useful:

  • National Debtline – UK helpline which provides free confidential advice on dealing with debt problems
  • Stepchange - UK debt charity offering free advice and solutions on problem debt
  • Citizens Advice - Self help information on benefits, debt, work, housing and much more (England)
  • Save The Children – Leading independent organization working in the US and around the world to change the lives of children in need.

We’re really lucky in that we have a close knit extended family who love our daughter to bits and would probably rather starve than see her suffer. We’ve never had to ask them for help yet but we do have that peace of mind at least.

Our plan is to pay off our debt as quickly as possible and make a secure financial future for us and our daughter. But there are so many families out there who are on their own who don’t have a back up plan.

Have you ever really struggled to make ends meet before? What does living in poverty mean to you?

Related posts:

* Photo credit: Pzado (Stock Xcnhg)

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    This is horrifying that there are children out there living in poverty. Despite my debt situation, one thing I knew for sure, I will not be having any kids while in debt and I need to own a house (rather than rent) if I am planning to start a family (I could never bring a new baby into a rented home). I am simply not financially ready to have a child right now and the best case scenario I will be able to afford a child in 5-6 years time. Well, ideally I’d like to have a child at around 37-38 as there are so many things I still want to do and achieve, but I guess it’s hard to plan things like that. I’ve got friends who are in their 40-s now and had children later in life, they’re all financially secure and are able to take care of their children. I mean, there’s no right or wrong, in life anything can happen and having a child is wonderful, but I’d rather be prepared :)
    Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Gym Memberships: Money Down the DrainMy Profile

    • 2

      says

      They are pretty shocking statistics aren’t they? I don’t blame you for not wanting kids until you’re financially sorted. I don’t necessarily think bringing a child into a rented home is that bad – we rent at the moment, it’s on a long term lease but saying that, we also have a house that we rent out. But waiting until you’re financially stable is definitely a good thing. I have to admit, we didn’t think too far ahead about the financial implications as we just wanted to start a family so much (having my daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me for many reasons) – luckily we’re doing ok and can manage but it’s a big decision for anyone to make!

  2. 5

    says

    The situation (not sure it’s 1 in 3 here, but still) and solutions sound very, very similar to what’s going on here in the US. I think it’s amazing to help people in developing countries, but when I’m donating to charities I try to keep this in mind and pay particular attention to the ones that help my neighbors, because some of them are struggling, too.
    femmefrugality recently posted…Disney World DiningMy Profile

    • 6

      says

      I don’t donate as much as I’d like to charity at the moment because of our debt situation but when I do, it’s often local charities that I support particularly charities to do with children as I always think of my own child and how lucky we are.

  3. 7

    says

    Great post. We struggled with poverty as children, and it was so scary. Those fears are a large part of what motivates us to get out of debt today, so that our babies don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll have food to eat or a place to live in event of a job loss, etc. Yes, poverty is very much alive here in the U.S., but what I’ve found in my extensive work with the poor is that much of it is that they have not been taught the proper way of handling money, and that is causing their poverty. Education for these folks would really be a huge help.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…7 Tips to Ensure You Never Pay for ShippingMy Profile

    • 8

      says

      Thanks Laurie. I read your post about your brother going out to find food from the grocery store as a 4 year old boy and it really moved me. To think of children going without food is heartbreaking. I definitely agree that education (around money but also general education as this increases future prospects) plays a big part in getting out of poverty.

  4. 9

    says

    I watched a PBS special once about american children living in poverty. It made my financial struggles seem to completely ridiculous. There were some situations where the parent(s) just kept making one irresponsible decision after another (not saying that all people below the poverty line are irresponsible at all), and the kids just seem like they had to grow up fast and almost act like the parent. Heartbreaking. I have never REALLY had to worry that I was one paycheck away from living on the streets. I can’t imagine how stressful that would be, considering how stressed I felt about my own financial situation.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted…Gimme a Break!My Profile

    • 10

      says

      I know what you mean, I’ve often been really down about our financial situation but it’s nothing compared to what some people living in poverty have to go through every day. These people need more than a lifestyle change to break free of poverty.

  5. 11

    says

    When we honeymooned in Ireland, we saw a documentary on poverty in the UK. I seem to remember there was a higher poverty rate in the UK than just about any other European country in the study, which blew me away.

    Thanks for the perspective.
    Done by Forty recently posted…So Long, PerkstreetMy Profile

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