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This blog originally appeared on the 4in10 website

This guest blog is by Faith Osazuwa, Communications and Campaigns Intern at 4in10 London’s Child Poverty Network. 4in10 works for a child poverty free London. 

4in10 and Little Village have collaborated to write a submission for the examination of the United Kingdom’s 7th periodic report to the United Nation Committee on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The CESCR committee is currently reviewing the UK Government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Little Village is a charity that fosters a village of support and solidarity for families on low incomes with children under five in London. Little Village equips families with pre-loved children’s clothes and baby essentials as well as linking them with key services. They also work alongside parents to fix the system that keeps them trapped in poverty.

The research for this report was informed by a human rights-based approach, 4in10 worked  in partnership with a small group of mothers who are part of the Little Village community. In this process, the contribution made by the mothers seeks to bring to the attention of the CESCR their experiences of struggling to access safe and affordable housing, a lack of access to basic necessities and difficulties accessing childcare and therefore being able to work. Therefore, this report contains evidence that the rights under Article 11 ICESCR – the right to an adequate standard of living, and Article 6 ICESCR – the right to work are not enjoyed equally in London. The UK government has failed to protect the rights of families with young children under 5 years of age living in London.  It’s time to hold the UK Government to account and more than that, it’s time for change.

A few excerpts from the report are illustrated below. To read the report in full click here.

Key findings

Experiences of inappropriate and unsafe housing

The mothers shared their experience of a lack of access to safe, secure housing for themselves and their children as one of the most acute issues they face and an issue that they wished the report to draw the Committee’s attention to. Several of the women were or had previously been placed by their local authority in temporary accommodation. London has an acute homelessness problem, with 10 times more London households in temporary accommodation than in the rest of England[1]. In 2021 nearly 56,500 households were living in temporary accommodation, including 75, 580 children. Furthermore, research on the crisis of family homelessness in the UK shows that temporary accommodation is harmful to families. For example, research commissioned by The Cardinal Hume centre and Home-Start Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham and published last week into the experience of families living in temporary accommodation in Westminster found that temporary accommodation is more than just a housing problem, the impact spans many areas including health, education, child development and a family’s financial situation.[2]

Similarly, the mothers had found the housing their families where places in to be inadequate for their needs and damaging to their mental and physical health as well as that of their children. One mother shared:

 “When I had a studio flat with my son, it was so damp. Every time I called they just say you have to wash it [the walls]…but it would keep coming back. My son has an inhaler because of living in mould.”

Inadequate housing can have a detrimental impact on a child’s mental health. A mother shared that their children were showing signs of depression due to overcrowding:

 ‘Children are depressed because of sharing bedrooms. So, they may act out at school because their needs are not being met at home.’

While temporary accommodation is intended to house homeless families only for short periods of time, this was not the case for the women and other families across the UK.  A combination of cuts to local government funding, an inadequate welfare system and a lack of permanent social or affordable housing has driven this increase. Consequently, children in London are growing up in substandard and unsafe temporary accommodation and the effect this is having on children’s rights cannot be understated. If the government is committed to its pledge to the international covenant, then giving families a safe, secure and decent home to live in must be the foundation of this.

Lack of access to childcare as a barrier to work

Another issue that the women highlighted as a priority for the Committee to examine was the barriers that prevent them from exercising their right to work.

When families are housed, especially in temporary accommodation, this is often far away from existing connections including employers and wider families and other sources of support. One mother told us how she was moved from south to north London, which meant, she would have to travel up to 2 hours each way to drop off her child with a family member who could provide childcare while she worked. The high costs of travel and subsequent lost work-time mean that this is not financially viable. Unable to make work pay this mother must rely on a small maternity payment:

“I receive £626 a month and that is it. I have to buy nappies, electric every week… the money goes like that.”

Additionally, the women expressed their desire to work to increase their incomes to support their children, but this was impossible given the lack of affordable and accessible childcare available to them.  Another woman, reflecting on the very high costs of childcare, asked “How can I work with 3 kids?’ Childcare in the UK is amongst the most expensive in the world according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In London, the cost of childcare is 30% higher than elsewhere is the country. [3] The consequence of the failure of the government to uprate the childcare element of Universal credit  and the universal credit system not being set up to pay childcare fees in advance means parents are unable to make work pay and are being blocked from the workforce. Hence, polling commissioned by 4in10 in 2021 among a representative sample of Londoners found that childcare costs were felt to be the biggest driver of poverty in the city[4]. While childcare is the infrastructure that allows parents, particularly mothers, to enter or re-enter the workforce, we also know that early years is crucial to for enhancing life chances for children living in poverty.

These experiences shared by the group of mothers are shocking to read and sadly have been a reality of many low income families living in Londoners for too long. The report concludes that despite the UK Government’s assertion in its 7th periodic report to the Committee on Economic, social and Cultural Rights that it is “committed to a sustainable, long-term approach to tackling poverty”, the evidence in the report shows the UK Government is in fact failing to protect young children and their families in London from the damaging effects of poverty and is breaching their rights under ICESCR, specifically Article 11 (1) The right to an adequate standard of living and Article 6 the right to work.  We urge the United Nations to listen to the voices of the women who share their experiences and call on the UK government to uphold their commitment to protect and implement these rights.

[1] Centre for London (Sept 2022) Temporary Accommodation: London’s hidden homelessness crisis  

[2] The Cardinal Hume Centre and Home-Start Westminster, Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham (Feb 2023) The Experiences of Families Living in Temporary accommodation in Westminster.

[3] Child Poverty Action Group (June 2021) ‘THE COST OF A CHILD IN LONDON: HELP WITH CHILDCARE FEES ‘WOEFULLY INADEQUATE’

[4] 4in10 London’s Child Poverty Network (October 2021) Flying Against Gravity: the lived reality of poverty in London  

Background image by Jorge Losoya