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‘Why British Kids Are Growing Up In Poverty’

The United Kingdom boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy, but almost one in three of the country’s children are growing up in poverty, according to the independent Social Metrics Commission., but things are getting worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that child poverty could reach almost 37 percent by 2022.

Such warnings come as Britain’s prepares to leave the European Union on March 29, which the Bank of England has said could shrink the economy by as much as 8 percent in about a year.

Brexit means the U.K. will also lose billions in E.U. funding, which has greatly benefited the country’s most deprived areas. 

The U.N. last month criticized the British government for continuing austerity measures imposed in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“Various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40 percent,” Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty, wrote in a 24-page report on the effect such policies have had in the U.K. “For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.”

Alston also dismissed the government’s theory that work is the solution to poverty, highlighting that 60 percent of those below the breadline come from families with at least one member being employed.

The government has admitted that the country would be poorer under any form of Brexit, and many fear that people like Butterworth who are struggling to make ends meet now will be disproportionately affected.

Many in Oldham said high levels of deprivation were key to why 60 percent of people living here voted to leave the E.U. in the 2016 Brexit referendum – well above the 52 percent national figure.

But few of those who spoke to NBC News said they expected the looming divorce to make life easier.

“A lot of people didn’t see things getting better for them anytime soon and they saw an opportunity to protest against that, to kick the people who they felt were responsible,” said Sean Fielding, who is leader of the town council.

The council itself has felt the sting of spending cuts. Since 2010, its budget has shrunk by $262 million – the equivalent of 42 percent of its funding – due to cuts in grants from the U.K. government. That makes it the sixth hardest-hit place in the country due to austerity, according to a recent study by the University of Cambridge.

And over the past 20 years, the Oldham Council has received more than $126 million in funding from the European Union, which helped projects including a tram system linking the town to nearby Manchester. It is not yet clear how much of the money Oldham can count on being replaced by the U.K. government after Brexit.

With public services debilitated by cuts, residents here increasingly rely on charities to plug the gaps in support. Oldham’s patchwork of food banks, social enterprises and not-for-profits is testament to the strong community spirit that flows through the hilly town.

Inside the old pubs, chapels and community halls that have been transformed into food banks and support centers, many people point to relationship breakdowns, personal accidents and sickness as the beginning of their downward spiral.

But they said it was also a series of changes to the welfare system over the past eight years that had left them without a safety net.

Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government introduced a two-child limit for benefits saying it would no longer pay additional welfare payments for a third or subsequent child born after April 5, 2017.

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