Leafy streets, manicured lawns and airy interiors. Residents with nothing bigger to worry about than the state of their neighbours’ gardens. That’s the picture most British people have in mind when they imagine ‘suburbia’.

But a new study from the Smith Institute says the suburbs’ affluent image is a myth: people who live on the fringes of Britain’s cities are struggling.

In fact, researchers from the left-wing think-tank say, poverty is growing faster on the edges of cities than anywhere else.

The report says around seven million people in Britain’s suburbs are living on or below the breadline.

Suburbs are 'a blind spot'

Six in 10 of those Britons living in poverty are based in suburban areas like Ealing, Brent, Enfield and Croydon.

Paul Hunter is head of research at the Smith Institute. He carried out the research, and he says the suburbs have been a blind spot for government over the last decade

"If we look at the 11 groups in poverty in total some have higher prevalence in the suburbs. Lone parents, part- time workers, those with a disability and pension credit recipients – they’re all more prevalent in the suburbs – and they’ve risen disproportionately."

The think-tank defined a household as poor if its income was less than 60 percent of the national average.

They said that the number of suburban areas where the majority of residents are ‘poor’ rose by 90 percent between 2001 and 2011.

Perhaps that’s not surprising - over the last decade, unemployment has grown three times faster in the suburbs than in the rest of the country.

And, according to the study, more than half of those Britons living in overcrowded homes live in the suburbs.

Safer cities drive exit to suburbs

The research goes on to say that some of the poorest people in the suburbs have been displaced from city centres. For the last 30 years, British policy makers have focused on urban renewal – in particular the regeneration of deprived inner cities. The 1977 Labour government shut down the New Towns programme, which aimed to build and develop suburban areas, and redirected investment to the inner cities.

As cities become richer, safer and more attractive, their homes become less affordable. And that drives low-income households out to the suburbs.

And the researchers point out that there are more single parents living in the suburbs than anywhere else. Single-parent families are set to increase: Forecasts say there’ll be an additional 400,000 lone parent households in England by 2021, and if trends continue, suburban areas will bear the brunt of the increase. They go on to say that better access to child care in the suburbs could dramatically improve living standards.

Impact on children, disabled

Imran Hussein is head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group.

He explains why poverty in Britain’s suburbs matters: "The reason it matters is the impact it has on childhoods and life chances. Children from low income families miss out on the basics, do less well at school, have worse qualifications and are more likely to get stuck in low-paid jobs."

Researchers say poverty is at its worst in those suburban areas that are furthest away from the city centre.

And they say the growing number of disabled people in suburbia need better access to work, especially in places with poor and expensive public transport

According to Imran Hussein, head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, poverty is getting worse: "The Independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has produced projections which warn that child poverty is going to rise by a million by 2020 because of the government’s tax and benefit policy decisions."

The think-tank’s report calls for a “suburban renaissance” to spruce up suburban areas.

The researchers want cheaper, more reliable transport, better services and investment in healthcare and welfare support.

(VoR)