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Child poverty: “I remember what it was like growing up hungry, in a cold house”

Home / More / News / Child poverty: “I remember what it was like growing up hungry, in a cold house”

Published on 26 October 2020

Child poverty
Child poverty

Footballer Marcus Rashford’s ongoing campaign to end child food poverty has been making headlines as the crisis deepens.

The Manchester United and England striker is calling for an extension of free school meals to 1.4 million more UK children, an increase in the value of Healthy Start fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers for pregnant women on low incomes, and an expansion of charity-led holiday hunger schemes.

Here Dr Amy Pearson, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, recalls her childhood and explains how growing up in poverty can have a life-long effect.


The effects of poverty in early childhood are well established, and show that early deprivation impacts on brain development and long term educational outcomes for children living below the breadline.

“Children living in poverty struggle more with working memory - important for remembering things like instructions from a teacher, and focussed attention - needed to concentrate on school work, and are less likely to attain the same grades as those from higher socio-economic households.

“Since the announcement of the ‘End Child Poverty 2020’ strategy, numbers of children living in poverty have only increased, with the gap between minimum wage, and basic living costs growing greater every year.

“The experience of growing up in poverty has a life-long effect, and is difficult to forget when discussions of whether to increase support for families living in poverty, is controversial.

“As a child I was acutely aware of how much electricity/gas we had left. Whether we would have to wear a hat and gloves in the house to stay warm, or how many nights we’d be eating beans on toast for dinner.

“I remember what it was like growing up hungry, in a cold house, and my mam trying her best to make things work.

“The suggestion that parents just need to ‘try harder’ and ‘be responsible’ is grounded in the idea that poverty only happens to those who do not work hard enough to avoid it, and ignores the years of stagnating wages, rising living costs, and lack of economic growth.

“It is particularly galling when academics are accused of being ‘out of touch’ with public issues, an ignorance towards the many of us that grew up in deprived areas, deprived homes, and were lucky enough to receive financial support that allowed us to pursue higher education.

“It is the double edged sword of working in a sector that has historically been a pursuit of those from wealthy backgrounds; you feel alien in a cohort of people familiar with ‘holidays in the South of France’, but somehow you’re also now one of the ‘liberal elite’ who doesn’t understand the needs of ‘ordinary working class people’.”

Dr Pearson graduated with a BSc in Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Nottingham in 2009, followed by a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2010 and a PhD in Autism research in 2014.

Her primary areas of interest include social relationships in neurodivergent and neurotypical people with a focus on victimisation, and experiences of autistic masking.