Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK: 57 per cent, after housing costs are taken into account.

A new report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) offers insight into the experiences of families on universal credit in Tower Hamlets – an invaluable resource for those working to better the lives of vulnerable children all around the country.

sad boy in blue shirt with face in hands

One of the most interesting insights to come from the report (“WORSE OFF: The impact of universal credit on families in Tower Hamlets”) is the provocation of relationship conflict (as well as stress and depression) by financial pressures facing parents in Tower Hamlets. Many mums and dads cut out eating or buying clothes to try to ensure their children do not go hungry, while others switch off the heating. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to rows and the breakdown of relationship in many instances.

Claimants reported arguing and shouting at each other more frequently and one stakeholder reported that parents feel under pressure to provide everything their children need and want, which resulted in parental conflict:

Indirectly it’s parental conflict – we’re seeing with our parenting programmes, the backdrop of that is parents who are in conflict around their financial situation, the pressures on them to provide for their children and have the things that they would want their children to have and what their children want…

(Tower Hamlets Parent and Family Support Service)

The Tower Hamlets report found that adults in the poorest fifth of households are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than adults in the richest fifth of household and children living in families struggling with debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children in families who do not have difficulty with debt.

These findings support extensive research published by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) in 2017, which found that poverty and economic stress affect the quality of inter-parental relationships, and this in turn impacts on child outcomes. Longitudinal evidence shows that parents in poverty or under economic pressure are more likely to experience relationship conflict, which can affect outcomes for children. Economic pressure impacts on parents’ mental health, which can cause relationship problems and difficulties with parenting. These difficulties can include reduced parental sensitivity and time spent interacting with their child, and can lead to harsher parenting practices, which are linked to future difficulties for children and adolescents. These difficulties include externalising (such as antisocial behaviour) and internalising (such as anxiety) problems, academic and physical health difficulties, and social and interpersonal relationship problems.

One mum interviewed for the Tower Hamlets report said:

In that period of time I was so stressed with the house, my husband was lost… I have a daughter, when you have a child you have so much to provide her that you cannot think of anything else… I was so stressed because I needed to sort out this and sort out that. I was shouting… I couldn’t play with my daughter. My mind wasn’t here. It affected me big time.

It’s poverty that is the ultimate evil in the story of the families living in Tower Hamlets and in many other communities across the UK, with 4.1 million children currently living in poverty and 5.2 million children expected to be living in poverty by 2022. We can look at government policies and support networks for children and families, assign blame and express outrage, but a more constructive approach might be to acknowledge that there is no quick-fix solution to poverty and so in the interim, what can we do to mitigate the situation for those fighting to take breath each and every day.

For us, as an early intervention parenting programme (offering practical parenting  strategies to help mums, dads and carers living in vulnerable situations), a worthwhile question is whether reduced relationship conflict and disagreements, reduced depression and anxiety for parents allow for improved child behaviours and better outcomes for the millions of children living in poverty?

The EIF articulates a range of factors associated with resilience to relationship and parenting difficulties in low income families. These include maternal social support, effective coping strategies, communication and problem-solving, community and neighbourhood support.

The UK evidence of effective programmes to address inter-parental conflict to improve child outcomes is at a relatively early stage. Interventions that have robust evidence are mainly those tested overseas. In the 2017 report, EIF looked at 13 interventions, which fall into two broad categories:

  • those which focus on the couple and addressing problems between the parents, which in turn impact on the children in the family
  • those with a primary focus on the parent–child relationship, with an additional component to support the couple.

Of the 13 interventions, eight fall into the couple-focused category and five into the parent-focused category. Through an initial assessment, eight of the 13 programmes were found to have had positive impacts on child outcomes, and showed positive impacts for children in poverty or economic pressure.

Whilst out research-based programme does not directly address the issue of inter-parental conflict it does suggest that a united, consistent approach to parenting between partners is most effective in the promotion of child well-being and we would love to work with organisations that address the issue of inter-parental conflict for the overall best interest of the child. We want our Kids Matter parents to build lasting relationships with their children in spite of their circumstances. To date, our results show that:

  • 92% of parents say the programme has helped them and their hopes were met
  • 67% of parents play with their children more
  • 74% of parents listen and encourage more
  • 68% of parents manage their children better

(For more detailed information on the above statistics visit

Ed and Fuzz Dix (from St Luke’s Millwall) have been running Kids Matter parenting groups in Tower Hamlets for the last four years – the work they do to support children and families is prolific and the Tower Hamlets report emphasises the value of their presence in this very vulnerable community. To find out more about Kids Matter in Tower Hamlets, do get in touch – we’d love to chat!

Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at


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