Friday, 18 January 2013

An incredulously stupid approach to child poverty

The government now acknowledges that its squeeze on tax credits and child benefits will push 200,000 more children into poverty. Ministers argue that it is no longer a valid measure of the impact of their policies.

But child poverty matters; it matters a great deal because it represents a crucial link in the chain of poverty and ill-health. The impact of child poverty is transgenerational. The problems of poor health are likely to affect the next generation too. The health costs to the nation will far outweigh the relatively paltry savings made now by cutting benefits. Yet the impact of the cuts is immense.
Standardized Mortality Ratio
 data from bmj; 1993; 307;1519-24

A simple measure of the likely effect of child poverty is to consider the impact of undernourishment during development and early childhood on the risk of cardiovascular diseases in later life.

One such measure is represented in the standard mortality ratio of adults born small and undernourished compared to those born well nourished (see figure). Those born small (<5.5 pounds) and undernourished are twice as likely to suffer from diseases such as diabetes and to die early from cardiovascular disease. It debilitates and shortens productive life.

This is one of the reasons why tackling child poverty is such a critical strategy. It can break the cycle of poverty and disease. Poor health blights a generation through poor educational attainment and poor job prospects. Poverty, bad housing and undernourishment create a cycle of poverty handed on across generations. The cost of the governments policies is difficult to calculate but over time with increasing burdens of poor productivity and burdens of ill-health and its impact on NHS resources will be immense. It is a foolish policy. It blights more than a generation.

It is unfair that the poorest should once again be made to suffer for a financial crisis that was not of their making. It is incredulous that we should make children suffer for it. But that is what the government's polices are doing. It is foolishly short-sighted. It is also cruel.



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