MORE than two million children in Britain are deprived of two or more of the "necessities of life" because their parents cannot afford them, according to a study published this week.
The list of 28 items judged as necessities is likely to spark controversy as it includes bikes, holidays and money for sweets - as well as food, bedding and school uniform. But it is based on extensive studies with 200 parents from all social groups and additional focus groups with parents.
In total, one in three British children is deprived of at least one item. One in 50 children does not have properly-fitted shoes, a warm waterproof coat or fresh fruit and vegetables at least once a day. And one in 25 is deprived of celebrations; educational games; a meat, fish or vegetarian meal twice a day; and a garden to play in.
The report, Poverty and Social Inclusion in Britain, is billed as the "most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous" survey of this type ever undertaken and was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the respected social research charity. It is based on surveys carried out at the end of 1999.
As well as highlighting the spread and depth of poverty in Britain, the report also attempts to identify the causes of poverty among both children and adults.
The children most likely to be poor are those whose parents are unemployed or work part-time and those living in local authority accommodation.
Surprisingly, children in households where no one has a paid job are less likely to be deprived than those in families where one person works part-time. The report suggests that this is partly caused by the benefit system.
Previous studies of poverty have tended to look at whole households and assumed that deprivation is shared equally between family members. However, the report argues that in most cases parents protect their children.
"There is some evidence to suggest that spending on children is relatively similar in all families. This means that i poorer families spending on children is, as a proportion of income, disproportionately higher than average," it says.
Overall, the number of households in poverty has increased since similar studies were carried out in 1983 and 1990. In 1983, 14 per cent of households lived below the breadline but this rose to 21 per cent in 1990 and 24 per cent last year. However, the proportion of those in long-term poverty has fallen from 4 per cent to 2.5 per cent since 1990.
The report's findings will make uncomfortable reading for a Government committed to social inclusion and illustrate the scale of the task facing ministers who are committed to a 20-year "crusade" to eliminate child poverty.
"Britain has become an increasingly polarised nation," the report says. "The growth in poverty is the most critical social problem that Britain now faces."
"High rates of poverty and social exclusion have the effects of worsening health, education, relationships within the family, between ethnic groups and in society generally."
According to Sue Middleton, co-author of the report, the findings suggests that the working families' tax credit, the Government's flagship policy for poor families, is not enough. "The income of someone on the working families' tax credit is not yet sufficient to lift their children out of the deepest poverty but it is heading in the right direction."
"Poverty and Social exclusion in Britain" is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Copies are available priced pound;15.95 plus pound;2 pamp;p. Tel: 01904430033. A free summary is available at www.jrf.org.uk The ten things deprived children are most likely to miss out on
NO BIRTHDAY PARTIES
* Holiday away from home at
least one week a year
* Swimming at least once a month
* Educational games
* Having friends round for tea
* Meatfishvegetarian meal
twice a day
* Birthday parties and other
celebrations of special occasions
* A garden to play in
* Construction toys
* Bedroom for every child of
different sex over 10 years old