How poor people afford children

Child poverty: the stress of not being able to afford a lot

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Vienna - "Every form of great leisure time is gone," says a teacher at a new middle school in Vienna, who observes that many of her students live in precarious financial circumstances. The parents are often single parents, with a migration background, unemployed and / or receive minimum income. "The worst thing for the students is when someone says to them: Admit, you can't afford that," says the teacher. "Many children have a lot of stress to cover up their poverty." Fathers and mothers would also often feel ashamed to ask for discounts.

The social expert Martin Schenk confirms these descriptions. On relationships with friends and classmates, he says, being unable to participate because the parents have little income has a destructive effect.

For example, when a children's party is on the rise and at least one Lego building set is expected as a souvenir that is not available for less than 18 or 19 euros: "Some children who know that their parents cannot afford this prefer to keep silent about such invitations."

Lonely and uneducated

The result: You would no longer be invited at all. This increases their risk of becoming lonely and of becoming an outsider, which in turn increases their risk of leaving school prematurely and only achieving a low level of education. In addition, it increases the likelihood of mental illness in the medium term.

According to the Austrian Poverty Conference, a network of social aid organizations, there is scientific evidence for such connections. A study carried out in Great Britain in 2016 under the direction of sociologist Aaron Reeves showed that in England, after the cancellation of housing benefits, ten percent more people from low-income households had mental health problems than before.

"Has nothing to do with asceticism"

In view of the poverty problems of children, the advice to make more out of less and, for example, in the case of the party, to consciously opt for a cheap souvenir, says Schenk: "We are talking about involuntary poverty. It has nothing to do with the freedom of asceticism to do, "he emphasizes. In a column for the homeless newspaper "Augustin", the social expert quotes the German author Undine Zimmer. She grew up in a family that lived on the German Hartz IV welfare scheme and wrote a book about it ("Not from bad parents. My Hartz IV family", published by S. Fischer).

Envied for drinking packs

Throughout her school days, she envied other children for the drinking packs they brought with them from home, which their parents could not have afforded, Zimmer said. Now the small parcels with the sugary contents can also be described as dispensable. However, according to the author: "There is a difference when you know that you could buy something or not because you can't."

One of the groups considered to be at risk of poverty in Austria are single parents or their children. Ms. S. tells STANDARD about her time after the divorce: "My children could neither go on vacation nor attend school ski courses." Her ex-husband was unemployed and after the divorce she sat there "alone with the children and all their debts". The shopping list was "allowed to contain only the most important basic foods at this time". She worked full time and also temporarily worked on weekends for Christmas gifts.

Housing problems

However, it is not only when there is a lack of consumer goods and child status symbols that the poverty of the parents is noticeable as a stumbling block. In view of the fact that rent prices have been rising for years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find affordable apartments, especially for families with several children but only a low income.

According to the poverty conference, six percent of the population live in too dark, eleven percent in damp, often moldy apartments. In order to avoid homelessness, more and more families with children end up in precarious housing situations with subletting without written contracts that have to be paid for in cash. In the event of announced reductions in the minimum income, such distortions would increase further.

Life between damp walls has devastating effects on the health of children, says Schenk. They would often develop respiratory diseases just a few weeks after moving in. In many cases, chronic exposure would result in asthma and allergies. "Today's children from poor families are tomorrow's patients," says Schenk. (Irene Brickner, Gudrun Springer, November 3rd, 2017)