The effects of poverty

Poverty in childhood is damaging: to children, to their life chances and to communities.

Watch some animations based on children's experiences of poverty

Research has shown that family income affects children's lives and development in a variety of ways. Living on a low income increases parents’ stress levels, in turn affecting relationships and family dynamics. Increases in family income can boost children's educational achievements, and emotional and physical wellbeing.

Parents worry about the impact poverty has on their children, particularly that they may be bullied. Children living in poverty frequently report feeling excluded and embarrassed, citing it as a key source of unhappiness, and worry about their parents in turn.

All areas of a child’s life are adversely affected by poverty: home, school, friendships and more. The most visible aspect is that they do not have what their friends have. Child poverty affects children's ability to enjoy their childhoods and achieve their aspirations.


What is poverty like graphic


  • Children who have lived in persistent poverty during their first seven years have cognitive development scores on average 20 per cent below those of children who have never experienced poverty.
  • Gifted children from the most deprived families begin school on a par with gifted children facing least deprivation, but their performance falls away by the age of 16.
  • In 2019, 41 per cent of children receiving free school meals obtained good English and Maths GCSEs, compared with 69 per cent of other children.1

The effects of poverty graphic

  • In the most deprived areas, boys can expect to live 19 fewer years of their lives in 'good' health, and girls 20 fewer years, than children in the least deprived areas.
  • Children living in overcrowded inadequate housing are more likely to contract meningitis, experience respiratory difficulties and have mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
  • The Millennium Cohort Study shows that poor children are four times more likely to develop a mental health problems by the age of 11.
  • People living in poverty are more likely to live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and in overcrowded or unsuitable housing.
  • Children from low-income families often miss out on events that most of us would take for granted. They miss school trips, can’t invite friends round for tea, and can’t afford a one-week holiday away from home.
  • 1. C Farquharson, S McNally and I Tahir, ‘Education inequalities’, IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, 2022