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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 01:52 GMT 02:52 UK


Britain's excluded millions

Britain's excluded children often resort to destruction and violence

Social security secretary Alistair Darling has said that poverty among some British children is "intolerable".

[ image:  ]
He spoke on BBC One's Newsnight programme, following the broadcast of the documentary, Eyes of a Child, which found that one in three children in Britain is living in poverty.

The programme said many are living in appalling conditions in which violence is common, and there are no expectations of finding employment on leaving education.

"If there is one child left in this country living in conditions like that, that is intolerable," said Mr Darling.

Alistair Darling: "It's the poverty of expectation that's so depressing about the whole thing"
He said that one of the biggest problems was long-term unemployment which meant that one in five households in Britain has no working adult in it.

"Then you get into this cycle of despair," he said. "It's the poverty of expectation that is so depressing about the whole thing."

'Cut off from Britain'

The film crew who worked on the programme were responsible for a ground-breaking documentary which looked behind the scenes at China's orphanages.

[ image: Some four million British children live in poverty]
Some four million British children live in poverty
Filmed for the Inside Story series, the programme on British poverty portrayed children the length of country.

The programme's editor, Olivia Lichtenstein, said the film crew had been shocked by what they uncovered.

"We were sucked into a silent, chaotic and confusing world of children who are cut off from the Britain that most of us take for granted," she said.

"Some are excluded from school, some are playing with drugs, some can't be bothered to go to school, some are beaten, grounded and battered, some end up dead - all are isolated from society."

600 a day excluded from school

The programme said over 350,000 children under 12 are left at home on their own every day. Six hundred a day are excluded from school.

Campaigner Maeve Sherlock: "We should give single mothers more money to stay at home and be single mothers"
It also says that one in three 14-year-olds has tried drugs, that children commit at least 15,000 crimes a day and that Britain locks up more children than any other country in Europe.

One Bradford family in the film contains 12 children. No adult in the family works.

Eight-year-old twins Kylie and Becky and their younger sister Kayley do not go to school. They stay up late at night, often till 1am and sleep in. They spend their days watching television and playing.

The family faces eviction.

Poverty wiped out in 20 years?

The government has pledged to eliminate child poverty within a generation, and Mr Darling said that it was trying to do so with a range of policies, focusing mainly on employment.

Martin Barnes of CPAG: "The importance of child care needs to be recognised"
But child poverty experts said that although the programme showed "extreme" examples of poverty, more needs to be done.

Martin Barnes from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) told Newsnight that employment was not the only problem, and said the government should do more for groups such as the disabled and lone parents families.

[ image:  ]
"For those people for whom work is not an option, the government has a long way to go," he said, citing government cuts in lone parent benefit as a problem.

He added that much of the problem had been inherited by the current government, from the failure of economic policies and two "very, very deep" recessions.

However, shadow security secretary David Willetts denied that the problem was a legacy of the last government.

Changes in family structure were at the root of the problem, he said, with single parent households having a greater chance of being in poverty than two-parent households.

David Willetts: "Single parent households have got a greater chance of being in poverty than two-parent households"
But Maeve Sherlock of the National Council for One Parent Families disagreed with him, saying lone parent households do not necessarily have to be poor.

Lone parents are much more likely to be living in poverty now than they were 20 years ago, she said, partly because of changes to the benefits system which had been started by the Tory party.

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