Poverty is ‘making children sick’, say children’s doctors | CPAG

Poverty is ‘making children sick’, say children’s doctors

Published on: 
11 May 2017

Sobering stories from paediatricians reveal health impact on millions of UK children living in poverty.

Poverty and low income is seriously affecting the health of UK children according to paediatricians – and any new Government must tackle health inequalities or risk storing up health problems for future generations. That’s according to a new report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) launched today.

 Poverty and child health: views from the frontline, is based on a survey of more than 250 paediatricians across the country, whose comments provide an insight into the grave reality of life for the millions of UK children living in poverty.

Latest figures show that 30% (4 million)[1] children in the UK live in poverty – with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade 2.

The report looks at a number of areas including food insecurity, poor housing and worry, stress and stigma – and their effect on the health of children. It reveals that:


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

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

• More than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health amongst children they treat 3

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

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

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“Day in, day out doctors see the damage rising poverty does to children’s health. Their disquiet comes through in the survey findings and should sound alarms for the next government. Low family incomes, inadequate housing and cuts to support services are jeopardising the health of our most vulnerable children. We can and must do better to protect the well-being of future generations. Re-instating the UK’s poverty-reduction targets would be an obvious place to start.”

 The report reveals that otherwise healthy children are at risk of becoming unhealthy due to poor nutrition and cold and cramped housing conditions caused by poverty. And for children who already have health problems, poverty exacerbates the difficulties. One doctor said that ‘for sickle cell patients, cold homes can precipitate painful crises and admission to hospital’ whilst another commented that ‘overcrowding makes looking after children with learning difficulties or autism next to impossible.’ Another said: ‘Some families would like to be able to provide more aids for their children’s diabetes care (eg. sensors which are not publically funded) and feel they do not have sufficient resources for this’.

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

 “Poverty has a devastating effect on child health and this report makes disturbing reading. The health impact on children living in poverty is significant – whether that’s increased likelihood of respiratory problems, mental ill-health or obesity - than children living in more affluent areas.

 “Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed feel the problem is getting worse, with the combination of increasing poverty, housing problems and cuts to services meaning more families are struggling.”

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

• The restoration of binding national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy.

• The adoption of 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.

• The reversal of 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.

• The reversal of cuts to universal credit which will leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off.

• As one survey respondent said: “We cannot expect to have a healthy future for the UK if we leave children behind. Poverty makes children sick.”



For a full copy of the report, or interviews with spokespeople from CPAG or paediatricians from the RCPCH, please contact:

Melissa Milner [email protected] /0207 092 6005

Jane Ahrends [email protected] /0207 812 5216 or 07816 909302

Note to editors


The RCPCH and CPAG conducted an online survey of paediatricians across the UK to capture their views on how poverty affects the physical and mental health of the children they see, and whether things are getting better or worse.

The survey was sent to all members of the RCPCH and promoted through RCPCH social media channels. A total of 266 responses were received between July 2016 and January 2017, from paediatricians working in 90 NHS trusts, and from 25 different subspecialties as well as general paediatrics. Specialists in community child health and neonatal medicine were particularly highly represented.

1) Households Below Average Income https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income...

2) IFS analysis https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8957

3) The latest food insecurity statistics from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show 13 per cent of UK adults are only marginally food secure and 8 per cent have low or very low food security. 34 per cent of people in the lowest income quartile reported that they often or sometimes worried about running out of food before there was money to buy more, compared with 7 per cent in the highest quartile. Just under a quarter (23 per cent) of those in the lowest income quartile were found to be food insecure, compared to 3 per cent in the highest income decile.