The scandal of child destitution

By David Urquhart
May 20, 2010

I met a destitute mother last week. A mother and child who came to the UK hoping they would find safety and a better future have ended up living in squalor, struggling to survive.

Although her son is now in school and they have somewhere to live, the isolation of the past few years is still clearly traumatic and she remains deeply vulnerable.

This family’s plight is highlighted in a new report published yesterday by the Children’s Society. It does not make easy reading. The Destitution Report reveals that the Children’s Society’s projects, in the West Midlands and across the country, are being approached for help by increasing numbers of children and their families who have fallen into destitution.

Latest official figures show that in the last three months of 2009, 11,655 applicants, excluding dependants, were surviving on the bare minimum ‘hard case’ support that the Government provides, 13 per cent up on a year before. This support often consists of unsuitable hostel accommodation and a small amount in vouchers every two weeks.

In a fair, free and responsible society, children must be provided with the basic essentials. The Report shows many asylum-seeking pregnant women who give birth are left almost entirely unsupported and destitute mothers are having to resort to prostitution, simply to feed their families.

Children of asylum seekers are among the most disadvantaged in England. They grow up hungry in dirty, unsafe, overcrowded conditions with no privacy, and are often forced to move repeatedly. Parents struggle to find better housing, financial support, legal advice and education.

Birmingham prides itself on being a compassionate, generous and welcoming city but open-ended support for people in trouble can be contentious.

Nonetheless, the Christian gospel emphasises care for the stranger and practical support for refugees. Jesus, in one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament, said:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25. 35-36 NRSV


(c) David Urquhart is Anglican Bishop of Birmingham.

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