More evidence that poverty leads to child abuse and neglect

April 3, 2022

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More evidence that poverty leads to child abuse and neglect

The incidence of child—and spousal—abuse has been ratcheting up over the last decade in all developed countries. Many researchers have pointed to income inequality as one of the main causes of this tragic increase.

Now, a new report based upon reviews of 90 research papers has found that changes in income alone, holding all other factors constant, have a major impact on the numbers of children being harmed. Reductions in income and other economic shocks increase the numbers being subject to neglect and abuse, while improvements in income reduce those figures.

It also concludes that local children’s services were often taking insufficient account of the socio-economic circumstances affecting families into account, and that more information about how poverty is influencing the numbers of children from different backgrounds being harmed is needed.

What the researchers say: “The international evidence about the relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect is much stronger now than it was five years ago,” said the lead author. “From this research, we can be certain that increased pressures on family life will lead to the risk that more children will be subject to harm, abuse and neglect, unless government and service providers can respond more effectively.

“There is a need for government to ensure that all families have the basic conditions to bring up their children successfully.”

The research took place in the period that included the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while domestic abuse of partners was found to have increased during lockdown periods, the researchers noted, it is too early to tell whether the pandemic led to an increase in the number of children experiencing abuse and neglect.

“There were no immediate large changes in the numbers of children on child protection plans. There were some small changes, but they tended to be in line with trends that were already in the pipeline,” they said.

So what? From the report it doesn’t look like there was a massive shock to the system in the numbers of children being identified as having serious problems during the COVID lockdown in the UK—though US and EU studies have been telling a very different story.

However, with the Resolution Foundation predicting that 500,000 more UK children will fall into absolute poverty next year and the squeeze on most nation’s government budgets from high inflation, the expectation has to be that acute pressures on families will lead to more child abuse and neglect.

What is absolutely clear from the economies of the US, Russia, the UK and numerous other places is that we have an inverse Robin Hood economy: governments are consistently robbing from the poor to give to the rich. Those that are robbed the most are those who can least defend themselves. The poverty, the loss of status resulting from low wages or unemployment (especially among men), leads directly—as many previous studies have shown—to domestic and, in particular, child abuse.

Biden has said he wishes to tax the US oligarchs. Don’t worry guys, history says it’ll never happen. Denis Healey, the famous UK Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1970’s, claimed he wanted to tax the rich “till the pips squeak!” He failed, too.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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