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The aim of this paper is to evaluate the impact of social inequalities, specifically the problem of class and how this impacts children’s wellbeing in the UK.
The lives of Children in the UK have been affected adversely because of social inequalities. Evidence by Bywaters, Featherstone and Morris (2019) show the existence of a link between well-being and unequal societies. Of other wealthy nations, the United Kingdom has some of the most severe inequality levels X. Social inequalities have a direct effect in terms of child poverty and deprivation X. Inequality affects everyone in the UK society including the children. Inequality been found to have a link to different social indicators such as obesity, social cohesion, mental health, crime levels, academic attainment among pupils/students and life expectancy X. Lack of materials or goods in a child’s life has been found to cause low self-esteem (lack of confidence) in their adult life X. Social inequalities concentrate on distribution of burdens and goods in society X. By good, it means, for example, employment, education, or income. Burdens, on the other hand represent things like marginalization, unemployment, criminality or substance abuse. Social inequality means uneven distribution of these goods or burdens in society. In societies with significant social inequalities, people’s social backgrounds as defined by their economic status or social class influence their access to life opportunities. In this case children’s parent’s economic status or social class influence the kid’s access to life opportunities. Numerous factors such as ethnic background, gender and social background (class or social status), play a significant role in social inequality in the United Kingdom (The UK) (Bell, T. and Pacitti, 2020). Evidence shows a clear links between low social status, social exclusion, poverty and the exacerbation of greater inequality conditions X. Individuals from low-income households tend to take part in more visible or conspicuous consumption to deal with this disconnect between their attainable and actual self, as well as the insecurities that come because of poverty (Bywaters, Featherstone and Morris, 2019). Income inequality has increased among working-age individuals in the UK, in a much faster rate compared to other wealthy nations (Campbell et al., 2019). Income among rich families in the United Kingdom, the top richest families earn is 15 times more than those of the poorest families. In the UK, a significant number of children and families live in adverse absolute poverty (where these families find it difficult to meet their daily needs such as healthcare, sanitation, shelter and food). Recent data show that more than 300,000 children in the United Kingdom live under these conditions, under absolute poverty X. A significant number of people also live in relative poverty (they at least have a place to live and can meet some of the basic needs such as food). However, these people in relative poverty experience income inequality or lack sufficient income. As a result, they cannot participate in society as much as they would like (fully). As a result, they are socially excluded (Campbell et al., 2019). Health inequality has also been significant in the UK with the gap widening between the poorest and the richest in UK society (Bell and Pacitti, 2020). Because of this form of inequality, affluent individuals living in rich suburbs have long life expectancy, living past 82 years while the most impoverished individuals living in poor neighbourhoods expected to live only up to around 54 years. Even though the gap in health inequality has reduced significantly in some parts of the UK like Scotland, poor individuals still suffer from illnesses like cancer, heart diseases and stroke (Bell and Pacitti, 2020). This is unlike affluent individuals whose health have continued to improve, thus their long-life expectancy. According to Woodhead, Dornan and Murray (2014), families and children in impoverished conditions (poverty) are at most risk of experiencing negative events like environmental and economic shocks, illnesses and even death (Lepkowska, 2017 cited in The Open University 20192020). This is because they have less resources to deal with these challenges. In cases such shocks, these families often respond by easting less food, experience reduced assets and debt accumulation. In schools, poor children usually fall behind much quicker compared to those from affluent families. Evidence has shown how children from well-off families show rapid progress in academic performance than those from impoverished households. Multiple factors explain this inequality in academic performance. These include less resources needed for learning at school and in-home environments. Children from poor households also lack access to good quality schools and education, both high early and primary education. Therefore, it is evident that social inequalities predict, children’s learning opportunities during their early years (Lepkowska, 2017 cited in The Open University 2019). Evidence suggests that the living conditions of children back home affect how they think and behave. When a child lacks food, proper housing, quality healthcare and medication, they lose their academic focus and are instead often worried about the hunger they are experiencing, their lack of proper clothing and housing and how other people perceive them as poor individuals. As a result, they may experience stress or anxiety. They may begin to withdraw from other people and isolate themselves and become irritable or develop delinquent or criminal tendencies (Digby and Fu, 2017 cited in The Open University 2019). The lack of proper food because of income inequality may lead to early malnutrition in children. According to Digby and Fu (2017 cited in The Open University 2019), inequalities have serious consequences during children’s formative years. Early malnutrition has serious multiple negative impacts in a child. Research on children with stunted growth have linked them with severe disadvantages later in life, particularly in their psychosocial outcomes, their cognitive health and well-being. Evidence suggests a connection between stunted growth and development in children and socio-economic disadvantages. Digby and Fu (2017 cited in The Open University) opine that children from low income and impoverished households are more likely to become stunted compared to those from wealthy families. This is especially the case for those in ethnic minority groups living in the UK (Digby and Fu, 2017 cited in The Open University). * According to Woodhead, Dornan and Murray (2014), early childhood is an important period in a person’s development and has serious consequences in later life when a child experiences the problems cause by social inequalities. These authors opinione is that inequalities during this period usually get established and causes long-term consequences in the children’s psychosocial and cognitive development, as well as their health. Further, these authors claim that some inequalities usually develop progressively during childhood and open up later in life. Others are usually amplified when a child is faced with critical life transitions. For instance, the pressure to find work usually increase in older children who come from impoverished families. This challenge competes with these children’s schooling, particularly where their schooling systems are not flexible to the situations and realities in their lives (Woodhead, Dornan and Murray (2014). Research shows that children’s identities, prospects (opportunities) and relationships are in part shaped by their inequality experiences (Woodhead, Dornan and Murray, 2014). These authors claim that a child’s poor or rich background can reinforce difference among peers and in society. According to Boyden and Dercon (2012), a child’s inequality experience shapes their social and personal identities, self-efficacy, self-esteem and peer relationships. Boyden and Dercon (2012) notes that children are often sensitive to their social positions, their competence and likelihood to get access to opportunities which can facilitate their economic, social and personal advancement. These authors claim that children’s experiences of inequality and poverty plays a big role in shaping their well-being. According to these researchers, children often have clear judgments concerning the role of wealth or material resources, school and family in their well-being and this shapes their thoughts concerning their future and long-term prospects. One of the most common inequalities which affect children’s wellbeing in the UK is class inequality (Durante and Fiske, 2017). The impact of class on children’s well-being can be seen in families and children in impoverished states or those who earn low incomes in the UK, particularly how they usually feel like they are socially excluded (Durante and Fiske, 2017). They often feel like they are deprived relationships and social conditions in society because of their social status. As a result, they are less likely to be recognised by the nation’s welfare system or feel like they are part of it and the decision-making process. They especially feel like their families’ recognition in the nation’s welfare system is a struggle because of underlying or hidden class inequalities (Durante and Fiske, 2017). Research has shown that the social-class gap that exists in the UK is continuing to widen because of the conditions of the middle- and lower-class families. Parents in different social classes have their unique child-rearing styles. Parents in the upper-middle-class who have jobs usually have some freedom or flexibility to make decisions concerning their jobs. These parents often have the time to spend with their children and advise them on critical life issues and challenges. This situation is not the same for low-income parents who work in positions which only require taking or following orders. This results in a difference between children from low income earning families and those from middle-class families. Unlike those from low-income families, those from middle-class families often have inquisitive attitudes in life and things like academic material (Durante and Fiske, 2017). Evidence suggests that lower-class children usually show lower average academic performance than upper-middle-class children regardless of their schoolteacher’s competence. According to Howard, Swalwell and Adler (2018), this gap becomes evident as early as in children aged three years and is unlikely to narrow without costly or expensive learning institutions where they can be expose to excellent training and experienced and highly educated teachers. These authors also claim that lower-class children experienced different health challenges like poor vision compared to those in middle- and upper-class households. This is in part because of prenatal conditions. Children from low-income families are often trained some unhealthy living habits like watching more television and experiencing few manipulative equipment such as toys. They also have poor oral hygiene are exposed to poor diets and nutrition and receive less or insufficient paediatric care. In addition, their health is also usually affected because of poor living standards, poor housing and sanitation. Living in poorly developed neighbourhoods might may make the children develop illnesses like asthma (The Open University, 2019). According to Manstead (2018), these social-class characteristics like these may affect a child’s well-being, affect their growth and influence their academic attainment in school. Children from poorly developed neighbourhoods may have low-grade house heating systems which use oil in addition to the gases from buses and trucks which emit fumes which cause drowsiness. As a result, they may be less attentive in class. Illnesses like Asthma may also make them to miss school and fail to catch up with those from middle- and high-class households with high quality living standards (Lambert et al., 2017). Poverty or poor living conditions caused by lack of proper housing affects children’s wellbeing and their learning abilities. Children whose parents cannot afford stable housing may frequently change schools. Evidence in the UK suggests that children from black African/Caribbean families and those from low-income households are twice likely to change school compared to those form white households (Lambert et al., 2017). Some schools in the UK, especially in developed or affluent regions, usually experience a situation where children from less able families are classified into poor or rich depending on their appearance, which is the clothes they wear. This also goes for the many toys which some children have while those who lacked such learning equipment were looked at as being poor. Those from poor or impoverished families often perceive those form well-off households as being happier because they can spend more time having fun and playing than them who do not have playing toys and occasionally spend time helping out in house chores and care for themselves and spend less time with their families who are usually out looking for enough money to care for their families (Burke, Scurry and Blenkinsopp, 2020). * Students or pupils from poor and rich families are also usually differentiated and identified by the brands they wear making those from low-income households to develop low self-esteem. Schools have even come up with derogatory terms which denote a child’s membership of a specific class. UK children can tell if a child comes from a poor family according to the brands of clothes they wear and how they look like, behaved, as well as the car brands their parents have (Burke, Scurry and Blenkinsopp, 2020). According to Burke, Scurry and Blenkinsopp (2020), there is a relationship between social behaviours and poverty. For instance, a term such as ‘chav’ is associated with being inappropriate or naughty in UK schools. The term has been linked children who advertise or show their low social status in schools (Betthäuser, Bourne, and Bukodi, 2020). Other studies on school going children have also shown that some students or pupils often recognise and experience social exclusion in their schools. In other instance, children from rich families have bullied those perceived to come from poor families (National Union of Teachers, 2013). As a result, children from low social classes have been found to hide their status as a means to protect themselves. This is what Campbell et al. (2019) refers to as income-related bullying. These authors claim that social exclusion and this kind of bullying causes significant anxiety among children from low-income families. Class or social inequality has also been associated with children from affluent backgrounds having access to active and creative activities like playing in sporting teams, engaging in music lessons, attending dancing classes among other entertaining activities where they can not only develop their talents but also have fun (Durante and Fiske, 2017). This is unlike those from less affluent households who, since leisure time has been commodified and many sites for children to play and enjoy different activities are being charged a fee, cannot afford to take part in such places. As a result, children from impoverished and low-income households are denied play, an important constituent of their subjective well-being. Play is an important part of a child’s development. It allows children to apply their creativity and develop their emotional, cognitive and physical strength, as well as to improve their imagination. Therefore, play is also important for the children to interact and engage in their surroundings, discover their abilities and understand the world. Play is also a stress reliever and a means through which children can work through their fears and anxiety (Durante and Fiske, 2017). According to (Durante and Fiske, 2017), play supports the development of control, and provides children the opportunity to learn how to control their feelings and self-control, a skill which is important for their success later as adults. Many researchers and organisations supporting the wellbeing of children, like UNICEF and UNCRC, have continued to suggest different ways in which practitioners can challenge discrimination and reduce inequalities in learning institutions in the UK. Elliott and Davis (2020), for instance, claim that it is important for practitioners to understand the causes or roots and manifestations of social inequalities in children to know how to help them. One way which practitioners can begin to reduce discrimination and inequalities is by understanding their social needs and the unique influencing factors. Understanding children’s social needs can provide the practitioners a whole picture of every child’s environments and an understanding of their lives, the divergent or different societal forces which cause inequalities. This can be done based on Bronfenbrenner’s sociocultural development model (Elliott and Davis, 2020). This will allow practitioners to understand the many influences which shape a person’s childhood which can allow them to see how childhood is perceived or viewed. Practitioners also need to understand and apply the concepts within the United Nations Conventions on children’s rights (UNICEF, 2014). Practitioners also need to understand the benefits of educating children. According to Association of Directors of Children’s Services (2017 cited in The Open University 2019), educated children develop values and attitudes which underpin democracy that is important for society. They are also empowered to protect their rights and other people’s rights. Local communities and families also benefit from an improved relationship, changed behaviour and excellent communication skills learned from schools. Reducing inequality and providing children with education and fair or equal opportunities in life leads to upright citizens who can participate in the development of the whole country (The Open University, 2019). Another approach that can help reduce inequality or discrimination and improve children’s wellbeing is by hearing the rights of children. Carefully paying attention to the personalities and particularities of each child can change the children’s perception towards practitioners (FamilyPoint Cymru, 2018 cited in The Open University 2019). Children will start looking at them as messengers, advisers and confidants and will be more willing to use different methods of communication such as humour, play, genograms, drawings and touch. Additionally, practitioners, parents or caregivers and other stakeholders should change childhoods by taking a different approach when thinking about childhood and their issues. There are different useful trends of thinking about children and childhood including socialization, institutionalisation, agency, democratisation and familiarisation. Understanding child socialisation will enable practitioners to understand how children mix with each other and learn about their behaviours. Familiarisation means understanding how much children are dependent on their caregivers, parents or families for a standard life. This approach can allow practitioners and policy makers to understand how to take care of children’s welfare in a targeted way. Familiarisation is also important in understanding how much family focus on economic and social policies and how this can help inform policies which can improve a child’s welfare. On the other hand, democratization will help enhance parents or families’ engagement in democratic process while agency can help practitioners know how to be agents of change. Institutionalisation can also provide ideas to social institutions and organization and how they can improve the welfare of children (The Open University, 2019). * Practitioners should also come up with different strategies to tackle different forms of bullying, especially on children who come from low-income or impoverished households and to create a safe learning environment with a positive culture where a child can be self-aware, self-confident and understand how to become a successful student or learner (HM Government, 2018 cited in The Open University 2019). Practitioners can also help children to build resilience. This can be done using play by creating programs which offer flexible play periods where parents, children and their siblings and other people in the community can take part. Suitable play programs can also be created for children with disabilities. Using tested and tried methods, practitioners can strengthen children’s resilience deliberately. Through such activities, children become strong to overcome challenging situations in life and become problem solvers (Anning, 2010). Reducing income inequalities by providing equal jobs and competitive salaries and creating practices and policies which challenge negative stereotyping and discrimination can help fight discrimination and inequality in children (Alanen, 2016 cited in the Open University 2019). In conclusion, it is clear that children experience numerous challenges because of social inequalities. Being in low-income households, lacking basic needs like proper clothing, housing, food, and healthcare impacts their ability to think and learn like those from middle- and upper-class families. Practitioners and all stakeholders should come up with programs that are child-centered and which allow them to learn.
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