Impact of poverty

Living in poverty can significantly impact a child or young person’s aspirations, health, well-being and achievements. Education settings play an essential role in easing this impact and creating opportunities.

According to the latest parliamentary research on poverty in the UK, the rising costs of living means income is set to fall for everyone over the next two years,  and child poverty is expected to reach its highest levels since the late 1990s by 2028.

A child’s life chances are dependent upon a complex combination of household income, equality of opportunities and level of social inclusion. While some children who grow up in low-income households will go on to achieve their full potential, many others will not. Poverty places strains on family life, excludes children from the everyday activities of their peers and can lead to homelessness.

Tackling child poverty will help to improve children’s lives today, and enhance their life chances, enabling them to make the most of their talents, achieve their full potential in life and pass on the benefits to their own children.

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Definition of poverty

There is no single definition of poverty. In the UK, there are two main ways that poverty is measured: the UK poverty line (based mainly on income) and the newer Social Metric Commission’s poverty measure which considers other factors.


“People experience poverty when they don’t have enough money or resources to meet basic needs, like not being able to buy food, or to heat their home. If you’re living in poverty, it can impact every part of your life and leave you feeling like you can’t do things that other people take for granted.”

Trust for London (2023)

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Extent of poverty

The turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed into a cost-of-living crisis, and some families are having to choose between essentials such as food and heating.

Many of the groups who were already struggling with poverty have borne the brunt of the covid pandemic, including part-time workers, low-paid workers, those in accommodation and hospitality services, lone-parent families, Black and minority ethnic households, and those in rented properties. Now, they’re struggling to afford the essentials.

The latest annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the cost-of-living crisis is having a wide-ranging effect on poorer households who have less of a buffer against rising costs.

  • 2 million children are living in poverty. (Poverty in the UK, 2023)
  • Around 4-in-10 families are spending less on food for their children. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2023)
  • A survey of 1,000 family support workers revealed nearly half of the children they worked with live in destitution, meaning they are going without the essentials needed to eat and stay warm, dry, and clean. (Buttle UK, 2022)
  • More than 1-in-7 parents said their child(ren) had to share a bed because they can’t afford another bed. (Barnardo’s, 2023)
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Impact on children

The Cost of Living crisis is having a huge impact on children’s education and wellbeing, as the numbers for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are increasing, the challenges that children and young people are facing become more intense than ever. If parents and carers are unable to afford the bare essentials such as utilities, food or even beds for their children, how do we expect them to thrive in education and become their best selves?

Buttle UK, State of Child Poverty (2022)

Poverty can impact in several ways. For children it may:

  • lead to poor mental health due to worries about their parents and siblings, and/or being singled out as different;
  • reduce their educational attainment if they have to live in poor housing conditions, or are homeless with little or no space to concentrate;
  • mean they are unable to take part in some activities due to lack of funds;
  • lead them to be exploited because it appears to be a way to make money;
  • lead to them being bullied for being different;
  • mean that they are hungry throughout the day, lacking energy, and unable to focus.
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Poverty and safeguarding

Parents struggling to make ends meet can feel anger or sometimes guilt at the unfairness they see affecting their children. Most do a tremendous job of minimising the impact wherever they can, trying to ensure their children are well cared for and feel valued.

However, poverty can be a factor in children being at risk of harm due to the stresses it creates in families and the limitations it places on choice, even though it is not a safeguarding matter in itself. It can lead to safeguarding concerns such as:

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Spotting the signs

Organisations working with children and young people are in a key position to support them. Research shows that children and parents are unlikely to tell us what is happening, and it’s knowing the children and recognising changes in them that flags concerns in the first instance. For example:

  • tiredness;
  • persistent hunger;
  • poor concentration;
  • lower attainment;
  • non-attendance on educational trips/involvement in educational activities where there is a cost;
  • stress and/or anxiety.
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What you can do

Create an open and approachable culture in your setting – help students think about the issues and attitudes behind poverty, particularly in relation to equality. Create aspiration and opportunity through high-quality education, while being aware of the limits and pressures on families, children and young people.

  • Be aware of the effects of child poverty.
  • Educate children about money management and budgeting, fostering a sense of understanding and age-appropriate responsibility.
  • Support students and families.
  • Signpost to support services, ensuring that this is through as many different routes as possible (e.g. leaflets, posters, conversations, etc.).

Consider how vulnerabilities might impact on individuals – think about the increased risk of exploitation, and the barriers to attainment or to making safe decisions. Talk to children in advance about holiday periods and assess the risks of ‘holiday hunger’, loneliness and neglect. Recognise the stresses around key times of year, such as the commercial pressures around Christmas.

Consider avenues of support including local early help mechanisms.

Take action – If you have concerns that a child may be being neglected and/or abused, consider what help you can offer and follow your safeguarding procedures.


  • UK Poverty 2023

    This annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examines the nature and scale of UK poverty and the effect of the UK poverty rate on the people gripped by it. This year’s report sets out recent trends across the UK and the impact it has on people’s lives.

  • A Crisis on Our Doorstep

    This research from Barnardo’s examines the deepening impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people in the UK and includes recommendations for action.

  • State of Child Poverty

    Buttle UK has surveyed over 1000 frontline workers who collectively support 60,000 children and young people. This report shows how things are getting worse for children and young people living in poverty and the worrying impact it is having on their mental health and educational outcomes.

  • The cause of food bank use

    The Trussell Trust supports food banks across the UK. Learn more about the state of poverty and hunger in the UK from their research.

  • The Relationship Between Poverty and Child Abuse and Neglect: New Evidence

    This project adds to the work of the Child Welfare Inequalities Project with a critical review of new evidence about the relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect published between 2016 and 2021. The studies confirmed that poverty and inequality are key drivers of harm to children.

  • What’s poverty like?

    The Child Poverty Action Group worked with students from the London College of Communication to show what poverty is like. These animations are the students’ interpretations, based on the experiences of children living in poverty.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for staff summarising child sexual exploitation
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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