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Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The cost of not ending child poverty:
How we can think about it, how it might be measured, and some evidence

Donald Hirsch

Joseph Rowntree Foundation


SARPN acknowledges the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as a source of this document:
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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been calculating the cost of ending child poverty. But the substantial cost to taxpayers of helping families on low incomes also has to be set against the large costs of allowing child poverty to persist.

Child poverty carries costs to society on many levels. Some are psychological – the burden we all carry of seeing children suffer – and others more tangible. Among tangible consequences, some are experienced by the suffering experienced by individuals and their families, and some by society, including extra money that has to be spent helping people face the consequences of poverty, and the public finance consequences of those who grow up in poverty being less likely to work and having lower earning expectations if they do.

None of these things is easy to quantify. This paper, however, proposes a structure for describing the wider costs of child poverty, and gives some examples of the very large scale of those costs that can be measured. The following costs are not all attributable only to child poverty, but are likely to fall substantially if child poverty were to be eliminated:

  • Р€3 billion a year spent by local authority social services directed at children, more than Р€1 billion of which goes to residential provision;
  • over Р€500 million a year spent directly on homeless families with children;
  • an estimated Р€3.6 billion a year spent on children with special educational needs, some of whom have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties;
  • about Р€300 million a year spent on free school dinners;
  • extra spending on primary healthcare for deprived children, potentially of the order of Р€500 million a year;
  • knock-on costs in lost taxes and extra benefits from adults with poor job prospects linked to educational failure in childhood. For example, the fiscal costs of labour market outcomes for those who are not in education, employment or training aged 16-18 is estimated at above Р€10 billion over the lifetime of a two-year cohort.

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