Poverty and child health: views from the frontline RCPCH and Child poverty action group survey of paediatricians reveals health impact on millions of UK children living in poverty

More than 1 in 4 (nearly 4 million) children in the UK live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade.

Poverty and low income is seriously affecting these children's health - that's according to more than 250 paediatricians across the country surveyed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Child Poverty Action Group.

These organisations have joined forces to compile a report, Poverty and child health: views from the frontline, which calls on the next Government to urgently tackle health inequalities or risk storing up health problems for future generations.

The report's findings are startling...

More than two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed said poverty and low income contribute "very much" to the ill health of children they work with

Lack of money is a major factor in the ability of many families to attend appointments or visit their ill child. One paediatrician said: "I see parents not staying with children in hospital, or not spending adequate time with babies on the Special Care Baby Unit, due to financial worries about missing work or the transport costs to hospital".

Housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two thirds of respondents

One doctor in London commented that "overcrowded, damp or unsuitable housing amongst our patients is the rule rather than the exception", conditions which can cause respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchiolitis. Another said that one of his patients is a "2 year old with recurrent seizures, living in a house with no heating".

More than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health amongst children they treat

Many respondents said their patients struggle to afford healthy food – with one doctor observing that "many of [our] patients are from low-income families who rely on food banks". Another said they "see parents in A&E who are limiting their eating to care for their children. Children are worried, scared and upset".

40% had difficulty discharging a child in the last 6 months because of concerns about housing or food insecurity

One respondent spoke of how they were "unable to discharge a chronically unwell child requiring constant use of electrical equipment as the house only has one socket" whilst another said: "I have seen a number of babies being unable to be discharged from the Special Care Babies Unit due to parents being homeless".

More than 50% of respondents said that financial stress and worry contribute "very much" to the ill health of children they work with

Stress and worry caused by poverty affects not only parents, but children too. One respondent observed: "I think that the biggest impact of poverty on the children and parents I encounter is insecurity, inferiority and stress. Through biological and psychological factors these undoubtedly lead to poor health".

The RCPCH and CPAG are calling on whoever forms the next Government to tackle poverty urgently

The next Government must:

  • Restore binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy
  • Adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach to decision making and policy development, with Her Majesty’s Treasury disclosing information about the impact of the Chancellor’s annual budget statement on child poverty and inequality
  • Reverse public health cuts to ensure universal early years services, including health visiting and school nursing, are prioritised and supported financially, with additional targeted help for children and families experiencing poverty
  • Reverse cuts to universal credit which will leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off

"We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the UK if we leave children behind. Poverty makes children sick."

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Created with images by nachans - "imgp6341" • Presidencia de la República Mexicana - "Inauguración del Hospital Municipal de Chiconcuac" • Nikasucha - "hand baby teeny"

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