When Hamzah Khan died of starvation and neglect in 2009 he was part of a tragic and disturbing pattern. As youngsters go hungry today in the city he lived and died in, children starving to death in 21st Century Britain is nothing new, and will happen again.
In January it was revealed that since 2005 six serious case reviews had been published about children who had died across the country from what academics call extreme deprivational neglect – most of them had starved to death. None of those children was recorded as ‘at risk’ by social services. In other words no-one even noticed that they were dying of hunger.
Since that report was published Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan must be added to the list, bringing the total number of children know to have died from deprivational neglect to eight, with only Daniel the subject of a child protection plan.
With increasing pressure on low income family budgets and on the resources available to agencies working to protect children it’s little wonder that the chair of the Safeguarding Children Board reporting on Hamzah Khan’s death could only say the city’s authorities are minimising the risk of another death, not removing it.
For those of us whose children have comfortable lifestyles the statistics on poverty, a known driver of child protection issues, are alarming. In Hamzah Khan’s home city of Bradford between a quarter and a third of children and young people live in poverty. Up to six out of ten children are in low income households. Those figures come from the council, the local NHS and children’s charities.
Statistics show a strong link between poverty and child welfare: children living in areas of high deprivation are at greater risk of injury and early death and are more likely to be subject to child protection measures.
Bradford Council’s Child Poverty Action Strategy, a statutory requirement since 2010, states baldly: “The levels of child poverty in Bradford are unacceptably high.”
Bradford is not alone in having pockets of deprivation, and its not the city with the worst problems, but the poverty it has is real and children are suffering.
At Bradford’s Gateway Children’s Centre one charity reports on what it calls a frightening and well documented demand for crisis support, most notably, food bank referrals.
In a blog published in August this year it reports staff talking of parents skipping meals in order to provide for their families and children regularly coming to the nursery hungry, having not had breakfast. It says, in a matter of fact way, that many of the children visiting the centre at Gateway are underweight.
The serious case review into Hamzah Khan’s death from starvation and neglect states none of Bradford’s authorities could find anything to suggest it was predictable.
Unfortunately, from what has gone before, we can predict that it will happen again somewhere in Britain – it’s just a question of when and where.