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Suffer the little children - An angry child
Last updated September 2015

Suffer the little children

Dominic Fox looks at the plight of the British pub-goer, and the serious impact of welfare cuts on child poverty

The ambience of the British boozer is being ruined by screaming babies and children whose parents allow them to run riot, according to disgruntled licensees and customers. Badly behaved children were the number one bugbear cited in a survey by the compilers of The Good Pub Guide 2016. As Jean-Paul Sartre might have said, Hell is other people’s children.

Certainly the life of children is subject to wild variations in our provision of ensuring a happy and safe environment in which to grow up.

According to the Children’s Society, children in England are unhappier with their school life than those in almost every country featured in a major new international survey, with more than half a million 10 and 12-year-olds having been physically bullied each month, causing huge damage to their happiness, and with many more feeling left out.

Girl Guiding UK finds girls feel adults often fail to keep pace with new threats to girls' well-being. Of most concern is the fact that two in five girls aged 11 to 21 say they have personally needed help with their mental health. Self-harming tops a list of health concerns for girls aged 11-21, closely followed by smoking, mental illness, depression and eating disorders. 82% of girls aged 11 to 21 say adults don't recognise the pressure they are under.

Research conducted by Donald Hirsch on the cost of bringing up a child found that parents both in and out of work are struggling to meet the minimum family costs. The Cost of a Child 2015 finds the minimum cost of a child from birth to age 18 remains high at £149,805 (a 1.6% increase on 2014 and a 5% increase since 2012). Couple-families where each parent works full-time at the current minimum wage are 16% short of the basic amount needed to provide themselves with what the public regards as a minimum standard of living. For a couple with two children, that’s a gap of £75.75 per week.

As one ACO member remarked to me recently that their beneficiaries get nowhere near the minimum income standard, it begs the question of how far many families are off giving their children a respectable standard of living.

Kids Company as a parting shot to government warned that its closure could provoke "rioting" and "arson attacks on government buildings". Widely suspected of exaggeration though that organisation was, there is a worrying suspicion that there is a link between deprivation and hopelessness and potential for civil unrest.

Support for children and families is clearly being reduced. Action for Children’s income fell by £6.6m in 2014/15 because of a fall in its income from local authorities, mainly for early years and family support.

Meanwhile the government plans to change the way that child poverty is measured. Commenting on Iain Duncan Smith’s statement on changing the child poverty measures, Alan Milburn, Chair of the Child Poverty and Social Mobility Commission said: “It has long been obvious that the existing child poverty targets are not going to be met. In fact they will be missed by a country mile… abolishing the legal targets doesn’t make the issue of child poverty go away. It remains a deep scar in the fabric of our nation… it is not credible to try to improve the life chances of the poor without acknowledging the most obvious symptom of poverty, lack of money”.

Alison Garnham at CPAG says that children from low-income families are at the bottom of the government's list of priorities. She says if Parliament passes the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, as it stands, poverty will no longer be measured according to income, and the government will no longer be bound by targets to eliminate it by 2020. Instead, it will track the number of children living in workless households, and the number who fail to achieve a certain number of grades at GCSE. Both of those are important issues which deserve attention but neither of them are definitions of child poverty. This amounts, she says, to an attempt re-define poverty - not having enough money - out of existence.

Vulnerable children and orphans would be prioritised in what would be a "national effort" by the UK to accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, David Cameron has told MPs. He described it as the "modern equivalent of the Kindertransport" during World War II.

Action on a number of fronts is urgently needed. 68 million children worldwide are likely to die by 2030 from preventable causes, warns the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, one of the international organisations complaining that governments around the world are stalling in paying for their work.

One customer’s response to the children in pubs survey said: “My peaceful lunch by the fire with a pint was totally ruined by a child running around whooping and tripping up staff – and when asked to quieten down by the landlord, the poor man faced abuse from over-protective parents, ridiculous!”

As I get older, like the chap in the pub, I get less and less tolerant of other people’s children’s screaming and shouting. With growing evidence of how miserable it can be to be a child I am thinking I had better get used to it.



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