Family poverty: Catholic agency calls for action

 Chilling new statistics reveal that more babies die in Britain before the age of one than in any other northern European country. A study released by UNICEF last week put the UK in 20th place out of a league table on child poverty, of 23 developed nations. The report showed that households in Turkey, Hungary and Poland are faring better than those in Britain, where four million children live below the poverty line. A report on infant mortality, published by social scientists at Sussex University, days later, echoes these figures, showing that 4,000 British babies a year die from infections, neglect or development problems - factors which it links directly to poverty. The gap between rich and poor is widening, the scientists said. Modest middle class families in Britain now earn more than twice that of the bottom 10 per cent. The director of the Bishops' Conference's Catholic Agency for Social Concern, Anne Forbes, said yesterday (Wednesday): "It cannot be said that the government is ignorant of this crisis. Its own First Annual Government Poverty Audit entitled: 'Opportunity For All: tackling poverty and social exclusion' which was published in September 1999 found one in three children live in households with less than half average incomes, and nearly one in five in working age households has no one in paid employment. "The report goes on to say, not surprisingly, that poorest communities have substantially more unemployment and experience higher levels of poor housing, vandalism and crime. Over the last 20 years, inequality in the UK has increased dramatically, with obvious consequences for family life." She continued: "Many church-based groups, from diocesan welfare agencies such as the Catholic Children's Society, religious congregations living in poor areas to organisations like the SVP and information/lobbying groups such as CASC are all aware of the problem and attempting to face up to it. "However, as these reports show, much more attention and more resources are needed. As planning starts for the next general election, will the issue of family poverty be high on the agenda? "CASC will be working hard to put it there. We hope many other organisations will join us. This would be in keeping with the spirit of the Millennium."

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