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Additional 10,000 children entering care due to child poverty, study says

A new study has found that rising child poverty rates are contributing to an increase in children entering care in England.

07/06/22

Additional 10,000 children entering care due to child poverty, study says

Rising child poverty is a key risk factor for children entering care, a new study has found, saying that an additional 10,000 children entered care in recent years as a result of the increase.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of Huddersfield said that children in care face adverse health outcomes through the life-course, relative to their peers.

Published in The Lancet Public Health, the study examined data from 147 local authorities, over a 5 year-period (2015-2020). Linking data on the number of children living in low-income families, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, with data on rates of children entering care from the Department for Education, the researchers estimated the contribution of changing child poverty rates to changing care entry rates within areas.

Between 2015 and 2020, a 1 percentage point increase in child poverty was associated with 5 additional children entering care per 100,000, controlling for employment trends. The researchers estimated that, over the study period, 8.1% of care entries were linked to rising child poverty, equivalent to over 10,000 additional children. It is estimated that the immediate costs to local government alone for this could be an estimated £1.4 billion.

The study said that over the past two decades child poverty rates in the UK have fallen and risen again. Between 1998 and 2005, the proportion of children in relative poverty declined from 27% to 21%, however the global recession had a drastic effect on the policy landscape.

“Child poverty targets were abandoned. Income-based child poverty data narrowly survived a move to end collection. At the same time, between 2011 and 2018, 57 separate changes and cuts to welfare benefits restricted their generosity and eligibility, disproportionately affecting families with children. These cuts were subsequently folded into Universal Credit, with its added constraints. From 2014, child poverty rates began to rise and in 2020 reached 23%; after housing costs, rates rise to 31%,” the study said.

“This study offers evidence that rising child poverty is a major preventable driver of the increase in children being removed from the family home and taken into local authority care – one of the most drastic state interventions into families’ lives,” said lead author Davara Bennett.


While national child poverty rates are well documented, authors said that “the geographical pattern of the change is less well-understood.” However, due to changes in government data policies in 2020, researchers were able to analyse local areas to look at regional trends, finding that in England, the ‘double burden’ falls disproportionately on the North East and parts of the North West.

“National anti-poverty policies are key to safely tackling adverse trends in care entry. This would, in turn, relieve the unsustainable pressure on local authority budgets increasingly devoted to costly placements for children in care at the expense of preventative children’s services.”

Professor David Taylor-Robinson, Professor of Public Health and Policy, Honorary Consultant in Child Public Health and Senior Author in the study, said the study highlighted a disturbing trend.

“This study shows that rising child poverty is putting unnecessary stresses and strains on families, increasing the risk of children being abused or neglected and ending up in the care system.

“This is all the more shocking since child poverty is preventable in a rich country like the UK.”

Read the full study ‘Child poverty and children entering care in England, 2015–20: a longitudinal ecological study at the local area level’: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(22)00065-2/fulltext

The study was funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) School for Public health Research (SPHR) and NIHR Public Health Policy research Unit (PHPRU).

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