MM’s Mihaela Ivantcheva investigates child poverty in Manchester and digs up some shocking facts.
"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children," said Nelson Mandela in 1995.
Look at the state of the children and you will know about the state of the nation. Children are the future. As trivial as it may sound, this remains a universal truth. A young generation affected by poverty is a future generation of lost lives and opportunities that can never be regained. Being society’s most powerless and helpless group, images of starving, dying children leave deep imprints in our memories that often haunt us for life.
You may well remember, as you must have seen it at least once in your life, one of the most striking and controversial photographs depicting child poverty and starvation. The picture, taken during theSudanfamine in 1993, shows a starving child and a vulture waiting patiently for the child’s last breath.
Kevin Carter’s photo won him the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. Three months later Carter took his life. In September 1994, Time magazine published his suicide note. It read: “I am depressed...without phone... money for rent... money for child support... money for debts... money!!!
“I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.”
The reason for choosing to describe 21st century with an example taken from the previous one is simply that things seem not to have changed much – at least when it comes to child poverty.
The latest figures reveal that, on average, one in four children worldwide live in absolute poverty. In some places these figures are even higher, with 60 per cent of children living below the poverty line. Striking images of staving children in the sub-Saharan region and of malnutrition in India are still a common theme in the media.
The sheer distance between third-world countries and developed nations such as this one can make it easy to ignore these harsh realities. But can we really distance ourselves from the truth of this problem?
Child poverty in third world and developing countries manifests itself differently. Take India as an example, home to the second biggest population in the world. Child poverty there can be directly experienced. It is visible on the streets; you can see it in the eyes of begging children. You can smell it, feel it, touch it. It is with you every step of the way.
In developed countries, like the UK, child poverty is wiped from the streets and hidden in figures, reports and statistics. Or so I thought, until I saw a begging child on the streets ofManchesteron a Saturday night. The look of the child was reminiscent of the begging children on the streets of Delhi and put a face behind the shocking statistics I am going to present next.
It may appear to some that I am exaggerating by comparing the state of our youths, the youth of a developed country, with children in the third world. I would rather be blamed for overreacting then not reacting at all.
On the other hand, this emotional introduction aims to prepare the reader for what follows next. Given the wealth of the nation, the statistics of child poverty and deprivation in theUKandManchesterare deeply worrying.
TheUKhas one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world. Between 1979 and 1998, the proportion of children living in poverty grew from one in 10 to one in three. Although the number of children in poverty was reduced by 900,000 between 1998 and 2010, the figures remain shocking.
Today, nearly four million children in the UK – one in three – live in poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned this number will rise by another 400,000 by 2015 unless the government takes an active approach to tackling the issue.
At a regional level, the rate of ‘severe poverty’ is highest among children living in London, at about 18%, followed by the West Midlands, 16%, and the North West, 15%, according to a report from the charity Save the Children.
Families in severe poverty live on less than £134 a week for a single parent with one child and less than £240 per week for a couple with two children. The children of these families miss out on school trips, hobbies, social and educational development.
In a breakdown of local authorities, Save the Children found that Manchester has more children living in 'severe poverty' than anywhere else in the UK.
According to the latest 2012 report by UK-based charity End Child Poverty, 49% of children in the city centre – nearly one in two – live in poverty, topped only by Bethnal Green and Bow.
The Campaign to End Child Poverty – organised by End Child Poverty and uniting more than 150 organisations including children’s charities, child welfare organisations and social justice groups – openly criticised the coalition government for its lack of action to address the problem.
Alison Garnham, Executive Director of the Campaign, said: “Child poverty costs us billions picking up the pieces of damaged lives and unrealised potential, so it’s a false economy if we don’t prioritise looking after children today.
“Targeting cuts on families will prove both an economic and a social disaster, with businesses losing billions of pounds of demand and families struggling to keep their kids clothed, fed and warm.”
The Child Poverty Act 2010 aims at preparing a strategy for eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020, with reviews of the achievements every three years.
Children are the future. Let us make sure the future is bright.