Monday, 16 October 2017


By 2020 £39 billion will have been taken from the social security budget. Most of this has been taken from the poorest families with children through the benefit cap, the two child limit, the freezing of family benefits and limits to rents. Almost all of the savings achieved by cutting benefits were offset by gains for richer groups.[1] For example, the increases in the personal tax allowance, which overwhelmingly benefit the better off, cost £8 billion under the Coalition, and a further £5.5 billion is being spent in 2017-18 paying for the allowance being increased to £11,500 per year and the higher threshold being raised to £45,000 per year.[2]

Before 2010 most of the indicators of child well-being[3] had been improving, not least because child poverty had fallen. It took time for austerity policies to be seen in outcomes for children. Until 2010 their support was protected by anti-cyclical policies and then the policies were rolled out slowly. By 2015/16 only about a quarter of the planned cuts had been implemented. From now they are really beginning to bite. Only 500,000 claimants are so far on universal credit – by 2022 it will be 7 million

 What evidence is there to date that this is harming children? Here are seven indicators:

1. Child poverty is increasing

After a period of decline child poverty is now increasing and is expected to increase sharply by 2020/21 (see Figure 1). All the child poverty reduction up to and even beyond the financial crisis will have been whittled away by 2021.  Meanwhile pensioner living standards have been maintained by the triple lock and their poverty rates have fallen.

2. There has been a big increase in child homelessness

After 2001 child homelessness had been falling sharply. Since 2009 it has been rising as has the proportion of homelessness acceptances involving children (see Figure 2). Much of this increase can be attributed to austerity[4]. All the signs are that it will continue to increase as local rent limits in the private and social sector bite and as more people are affected by the delays in the payment of the housing element of universal credit.[5]

3. Infant mortality has stopped falling

In 2015 the infant mortality rate increased for the first time since 1985. It may not be the start of a trend but this increase follows a long period of decline and the rate has been increasing for the poorest children since 2010[6]. UK infant mortality rates  are already high compared to other rich EU and other countries and there is evidence that UK infant mortality has been diverging upwards from the general European pattern[7].  Child deaths due to modifiable factors also increased from 2013 to 2017[8].

4. Youth suicides have stopped falling

The youth suicide rate had also been falling after 1998 especially for males but it stopped falling in 2007 and may be increasing.

5. The number of looked after children has been increasing

The number of looked after children in England had plateaued after 2002 but since 2010 it has been steadily increasing. We can only draw tentative conclusions about this trend (and indeed all the trends in this blog). Children come into care for many reasons including parental mental illness, substance misuse and domestic violence. The trend may be a result of changes to practice following child protection scandals such as Victoria Climbie or as a result of recent child migration patterns. But there is also some evidence of an association between spatial deprivation and children looked after[9] and more evidence at an individual level coming from the Born in Bradford cohort of an association between poverty and becoming looked after[10]. There is also evidence that the increase in looked after children has been much greater in more disadvantaged areas[11]


6. The subjective well-being of children is falling

The mean happiness scores of 10-15 year olds has been falling. This is data from the Understanding Society Youth Panel analysed for the Good Childhood reports[12]. Understanding Society (US) replaced the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). Data from the BHPS survey using the same question showed that mean happiness scores of 11 to 15 year olds improved significantly from 2001 to 2008[13]. Unfortunately it is not possible to compare BHPS and US results because of a change in the sampling structure. But it clear from US that there was no further improvement after 2009 and evidence of a statistically significant decline after 2011. The decline is more marked for girls than boys and the decline in happiness with school and with friends is statistically significant.

There is a growing concern with child and adolescent mental health[14] and quite a lot of cross sectional evidence[15] but unfortunately there is as yet no trend data that takes us into the recession years. Suicide and mental health are clearly linked to recession[16] and there has been a 68% increase in the number of girls admitted to hospital for self-harming in the last decade[17].

7. Obesity admission increasing

Although there is a good deal of concern over childhood obesity, obesity and overweight rates have not increased since the recession[18]. However there has been a sharp increase in the hospital admissions of under 16 year olds with obesity as a primary or secondary diagnosis see Figure 7 and inequalities in obesity rates have been widening [19].


Here we have seven child outcomes which have been moving in the wrong direction since the start of austerity. We cannot prove that any of the trends is entirely the result of austerity. But it is surely significant that before the financial crisis all were moving downwards and now they have either stopped or started moving upwards?


[2] See

[3] Bradshaw, J. (ed) (2016) The Well-being of Children in the UK: Fourth Edition, Bristol: Policy Press. 425 pages.




[7] Wolfe I, Donkin A, Marmot M, Macfarlane A, Cass H, Viner R. UK child survival in a European context: recommendations for a national Countdown Collaboration Archives of disease in childhood 2015.


[9] Bywaters, P. (2013) Inequalities in child welfare: Towards a new policy, research and action agenda, British Journal of Social Work  advanced access 1-18

[10] Baldwin, H. (forthcoming)



[13] Bradshaw, J. and Keung, L. (2011) ‘Trends in child subjective wellbeing in the UK’, Journal of Children’s Services, vol 6, no 1, pp 4-17.

[14] Royal College of Nursing (2017)  Child and adolescent mental health: key facts






No comments:

Post a Comment