Delegates at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress yesterday voted overwhelming in favour of a motion to put pressure on ministers to fund efforts to address this growing problem.
“It is well-documented that growing up in poverty has a negative impact on the health of children”
The vote came on the same day as a controversial UN-commisioned report accused ministers of being in “a state of denial” about “exacerbating inequality and poverty” across the UK.
The resolution was put forward by Rhian Wright, RCN representative from the Cardiff and Vale branch, who highlighted the fact levels of child poverty in the UK have continued to rise year on year.
Child poverty currently affects more than four million children – or nine in each class of 30 pupils, she told the conference in Liverpool on Wednesday.
“It is well-documented that growing up in poverty has a negative impact on the health of children and the opportunities available to them, which continues into adult life,” she said.
“For my children, for all our children I urge you to support this motion”
She said investment was needed now to halt this damaging cycle of disadvantage which was costing the UK economy more than £29bn a year.
“The government needs to focus on the long-term gains of investment in child poverty and not on the shorter term costs,” she said.
Specialist health visitor Nicola Milligan, who works for Cwm Taf University Health Board and is a RCN Wales board member, spelled out some of the disadvantages experienced by children who grow up in poverty.
“They are more likely to have both physical and mental health problems along with underachieving at school,” she said.
Poverty can have a deep impact on child development “resulting in permanent disadvantages that contribute to the continuation of poverty through the generations”, she added.
One of the speakers was student nurse Clare Manley who told the conference she was living in poverty with her husband and children.
“For my children, for all our children I urge you to support this motion,” she said.
Congress delegates voted overwhelming in favour of the resolution calling on RCN Council to lobby government across the UK to provide adequate resources to deal with child poverty.
The vote co-incided with the publication of a report by UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty Professor Philip Alston, which concluded that cuts to public services since 2010 have had “tragic consequences”.
“The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live”
The report was based on a visit to the UK in November last year plus more than 300 submissions. It claimed close to 40% of children in the UK are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021.
“Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food and sending it home because teachers know their students will otherwise go hungry,” said the report, which stated that living in poverty can “take a severe toll on physical and mental health”.
“Given the significant resources available in the country, the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have caused so much pain and misery, amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations,” said Professor Alston.
However, the Westminster government hit back, describing his findings as “barely believable”.
“The UN’s own data shows the UK is one of the happiest places in the world to live, and other countries have come here to find out more about how we support people to improve their lives,” said spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions.
“Therefore, this is a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here,” he said. ”It paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty.”
RCN Congress 2019