Understanding Childhoods:

Growing Up in Hard Times

Building on our 135-year history tackling child poverty, we are following the lives of 60 children over three years, uncovering a unique child's-eye view of growing up in poverty in Britain today.

Right now, four million children are living in poverty in this country

Tackling child poverty has been at the heart of our work for over a century.

Understanding Childhoods is our new long term research series, in partnership with the University of Bath, on children’s true experiences of poverty.

We found that repeatedly packing up their lives and moving home has become a worryingly normal part of life for some children growing up in poverty in Britain today.

These children are shouldering many of the burdens of living in poverty while parents struggle to make ends meet with low wages, poor housing, relationship problems and welfare cuts.

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Moving home

The daily reality for some children in poverty today is living out of cardboard boxes, helping parents with packing or housing paperwork, struggling to maintain long distance friendships and travelling for hours every day to stay in the same school.

Abilene, 12

When we met Abilene she was in Year 7 and struggling with life. Abilene played a crucial role at home, looking after her mum who suffered with a chronic health condition, helping to take care of her younger siblings and doing domestic chores.

By the age of 12 she had moved seven times within the same city, and in some cases within the same local area. She was expecting another imminent move, out of the flat on the busy road where she, her mum and siblings were housed temporarily, and into permanent housing.

read more about abilene's story


'I think it's definitely happening. Not really sure. Yes.'


At school, some children in poverty are going hungry and face punishment for missing uniform or equipment their family simply can’t afford.

School poverty infographic


Lucy, 11

Lucy is 11 years old and lives in a rural town with her mum, stepdad and older sister.

School is a mix of bad and good things for Lucy.  Adjusting to new rules and conditions is something that worries Lucy most about being in secondary school. The sanctions for not having the correct uniform bother her a little, as does the cost of some of the small things.

read more about lucy's story


Children in poverty are worried about living in dangerous and dirty neighbourhoods surrounded by rubbish, at the mercy of local bullies and troubled by noise in their street.

Pia, 9

Pia has lots of friends who live on her road, but it isn’t safe to play out. The road is busy and dangerous and recently a car ‘...bashed into our fence and my mum don't like me playing out anymore.’

The neighbourhood has a park but for many of the children in the study, and especially younger children, parks are not necessarily seen as safe areas. Pia doesn’t like to play there because it’s poorly lit and she feels unsafe. Her mum and dad are worried about her safety and don’t want her to play outside unless someone accompanies her.

read more about pia's experiences

Neighbourhood poverty infographic

Money and material things

Money from extended family is much-needed, children in poverty save whatever they can to help with family finances and go without valued items like mobile phones and trainers.

Money and material poverty infographic

Remy, 11

Everyone in Remy’s family but him has a learning disability: his mum, older sister and younger brother.

There is very little money in Remy’s household, and Remy doesn’t like asking his mum for things because he knows she can’t afford it. He doesn’t get pocket money, but he sometimes asks his mum for money so he can buy a drink or a snack. He’s not bothered about clothes or trainers and doesn’t mind what he wears. But he does need sports stuff for school because he plays in the rugby team, and he is growing fast.

read more about remy's story

Understanding Childhoods

What's next?

Housing instability marks the lives of some children growing up in poverty in Britain today. This is putting the health, education and happiness of these children at risk.

We are calling on the Government to make sure that financial support for housing costs increases in line with local rents for families who are renting privately, to help poorer families secure their children’s homes long term.

With this research series, we will follow the lives of these children over three years, uncovering a unique child's-eye view of growing up in poverty in Britain today.

Tackling child poverty since 1881