19 May 2010

The Children’s Society’s network of projects across the country are being approached by increasing numbers of children, young people and their families who have fallen into destitution. This mirrors the trend of increasing numbers of destitute children and families across the UK.

The crisis is revealed in a new report about The Children’s Society’s West Midlands Destitution Project, published today. It reveals that in the first year of its operation across the West Midlands, the project helped 264 children whose families have no means of survival because the adults have been unable to get the help they need from the State, and are not allowed to work or claim benefits. Families were provided with crisis grants and resources, as well as supported to access advice to help them resolve their situation.

Demand increased rapidly throughout the year with staff doing intensive casework with 13 families in the first three months, 23 families in the second quarter, 44 in the third and 42 in the fourth.

Staff at The Children's Society’s centres helping destitute children and families say that they are ‘’overwhelmed’’ by the growing numbers of families, often with babies and young children, who lack essentials such as food, housing and other basic essentials e.g. nappies and clothes, that they need to survive.

The rise in destitution is often caused by Britain’s chaotic asylum system either denying the families support or limiting them to an amount that is internationally recognised as being inadequate to meet basic human needs.

As a result thousands of children are being thrown into destitution and are growing up in households without adequate food, heating or toys. Mothers are being forced into prostitution to survive; young people in care are being cut off from any help and becoming homeless at the age of 18, while in some cases pregnant women cannot afford to eat.

People who are refused asylum but cannot return home immediately are banned by the British Government from working. They can apply for Section 4, that offers ‘hard case’ support, under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This often consists of hostel accommodation that is inappropriate for raising children and a small amount in vouchers every two weeks. Pregnant women don’t automatically get support for their infants - there are often delays so they often do not have enough to get the baby milk, clothes and nappies they need for their infants.

The Government acknowledges the number of children in this predicament is rising. Latest figures show that in the last three months of 2009, 11,655 applicants, excluding dependants, were surviving on the bare minimum Section 4 Support, 13 per cent up on a year before. (1)

However, many other families get no help at all. Under Schedule 3 (Nationality, immigration and asylum act 2002) there are a number of groups who are excluded from local authority support. Local Authorities have an obligation to ensure the welfare of children in their area - but for many children that The Children's Society works with, the only offer of support is to take them into care, which leaves the parents without support. This means that children must remain destitute with their parents, or go into care without them.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society, says: ‘This report is based on the hard, bitter experience of working with destitute families over the last year. Staff based at our projects say they are overwhelmed by the scale of the distress they are dealing with. We call on the new Government to review these policies which are leaving children and families without financial support for years, in some cases’.

The Children’s Society report contains heart-rending cases of young children who have suffered because of these Government policies. For example:

Triton is a two-year-old Sri Lankan boy who has had a horrific start in life. His father abandoned him and his mother Shanthi shortly after they arrived in the UK, leaving them destitute and homeless. His mother is also pregnant after being raped by her husband. Several applications to the Government for help were refused.

Aisha and Hassan
Five year old Aisha and her one year old baby brother Hassan are living in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. Both children were born in the UK. But the UK Border Agency says it will only support their mother Aliya and baby Hassan financially, but it refuses to support Aisha because her father is British. The effect of this ruling on the children was potentially catastrophic because Aliya is HIV positive. She is therefore unable to breast feed Hassan and did not have enough money to buy formula milk for him.

Just before Christmas, Social Services completely cut off all financial support for three year old Isaias’s family and asked the family to apply for support from the UK Border Agency. His mother Malashu had no money to feed into the electricity meter. The heating was cut off and the temperature where they were living plunged to freezing point. When The Children’s Society’s project staff found Isaias and his newborn baby sister Salamay they were wrapped in winter clothes and coats while indoors in an attempt to keep warm. One of the children had to be hospitalised with a chest infection.

For more information about the work that The Children's Society carries out with destitute children and families, or to support the appeal, please visit our website.

(1) Home Office Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical Summary October-December 2009

  • By destitution we mean lack of regular access to basics, like food, medicine and a place to live
  • The Children’s Society is a leading children’s charity committed to making childhood better for all children in the UK. Key among our areas of operation is the work we do with refugee children and their families, protecting their rights, campaigning on their behalf and helping them rebuild their lives in new communities.

Media enquiries:
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact: The Children’s Society’s Media Team, Tel: 020 7841 4422 Email: rafi.cooper@childsoc.org.uk, mobile: 07810 796 508.

The Children’s Society is a leading children’s charity committed to making childhood better for all children in the UK; www.childrenssociety.org.uk