London is undeniably one of the richest and coolest cities in the world (I’m only slightly biased), receiving on average 15 million visitors a year. However, despite the fact that apartments can sell for £27m (as was recently the case in Knightsbrige, a chic area of London), the gritty truth is that London has the highest rate of child poverty in England. With 37% of the capital’s children living under the poverty line, there are more poor children in London than in Wales and Scotland combined. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ latest report predicts that the number of children living in poverty in England in 2015 will reach 2.9 million, up from 2.3 million this year. Despite these horrifying and utterly shameful statistics, the current coalition government is continuing with its proposed benefit caps, which will undoubtedly have a negative effect of the problem.
So, what are the consequences of child poverty, and what exactly does living in poverty in London actually mean? Whilst ‘poverty’ can be defined in many different ways, in London, families living in poverty typically have around £10 per family member per day to buy everything they need – this includes food, heating and transport costs. To put this is perspective, the average household in London would have £44 per member per day to spend. This in itself is 20% higher than the average household in the rest of the UK, which displays the massive divide between rich and poor – and even ‘middling’ and poor – which currently exists in England’s capital city. There are both long term and short-term consequences for children who live and grow up in poverty. A survey conducted amongst teachers in five of London’s poorest boroughs last year showed that almost all (95%) had talked to students who were coming to school hungry after not having had breakfast, and 60% reported buying those students food with their own money. This is frankly humiliating: the Mayor of London is spending time and energy on developments like the cable car across east London and the River Thames, solely for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists, whilst those very cable cars are passing over schools full of students whose families cannot afford to give them breakfast.
Turning up to school hungry is not just an unfortunate inconvenience: numerous studies have concluded that concentration and general academic performance are improved when students are able to focus properly in class. Down the line, this affects exam results and future prospects. If we can solve this basic problem, there will be major benefits for our country as a whole. The question is, in a time of such financial instability in England and with government economic resources stretched to their limits, how can we help bring an end to child poverty?
As a starting point, it is vital that we do not underestimate the power that large private companies such as banks can have in supporting projects such as breakfast clubs in underprivileged schools. Many schemes already exist, and they have proved very successful. One investment bank has paired up with the high street bakery chain ‘Greggs’ to provide breakfast for the students at a school in one of London’s most deprived areas who would normally be arriving at school not having eaten since the night before. This seemingly small-scale program can reap massive benefits for everybody involved, and also takes the strain off local borough resources, which are already scarce. Clearly, breakfast schemes alone will not succeed in ending child poverty in London for good, but they are definitely a positive step in the right direction. The links between private companies and these deprived schools could be part of the answer, and the private companies also gain from seeing direct results of their financial support, something they
would not normally get from their charity involvement.
However, these private businesses can never fulfil the role that the national government has: a responsibility to ensure that there is no more poverty in London. The new proposed benefit reforms which involve cutting the amount of money that families in need receive could lead to the already shocking child poverty statistics worsening, something that we absolutely cannot let happen – it is expected that 27,400 London households will be affected by the new caps. Government cuts are no simple matter, and there are always people who will not be satisfied, but it is undeniable that in this day and age, children living in poverty should take absolute priority – nothing at all can be more important. It is unacceptable that in 2014, poverty is a real problem for so many families living in England, and this is something that the government needs to keep in mind when making decisions which affect such large numbers of people in their capital.
(photo from http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/02/07/london-inequality-what-would-charles-dickens-think/)