We need to keep up the pressure over child poverty

15th June, 2012 10:16 am

In 1999 Tony Blair made a big and bold commitment to eliminating child poverty within a generation. This week the government published statistics showing that the last Labour government lifted 1.1 million children out of poverty.

Earlier this week the Child Poverty Action published ‘Ending Child Poverty by 2020: Progress Made and Lessons Learned’. CPAG’s report is an important and timely document both charting the progress of the last Labour government but also forensically taking on some of the recent arguments Tory and Lib Dem ministers have been pursuing downgrading the importance of the child poverty targets. I thoroughly recommend every Labour Party member reads it.

The findings are stark – that as a result of the measures taken by the last Labour government, 900,000 children were lifted out of poverty who otherwise would not have been on the ‘before housing costs measure’. What’s more our measures ensured that an additional 900,000 did not fall into poverty. As the reports observes ‘reducing child poverty on this scale and at this pace has few if any precedents, either over time or across comparable wealthy countries.’

As fighters for social justice we can never be satisfied and are absolutely always hungry for further change, but that is surely a record of which all Labour members can be proud.

To mark the publication of the statistics this week, Iain Duncan Smith confirmed plans to shift the goal posts and instead start using less ambitious bench marks to measure levels of child poverty.

In the heady days of husky photo-shoots, David Cameron told us,  the heady days of huskie photo calls David Cameron told us “poverty is relative – and those who pretend otherwise are wrong.”  No doubt those concerned for the sincerity of the Tories on defeating child poverty felt reassured when Cameron continued “I believe that poverty is an economic waste and a moral disgrace. In the past, we used to think of poverty only in absolute terms – meaning straightforward material deprivation. That’s not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms – the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. So I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”

By 2010 just to reinforce the point that the Tories were so keen to signal a shift on these issues they committed cross party support for Gordon Brown’s Child Poverty Act, committing future governments to reducing relative child poverty.

Fast forward to 2012 and the budget decisions made by the ‘quad’ of a Tory Prime Minister, a Tory Chancellor and their two Lib Dem Deputies betray the reality of the current government’s attitude towards defeating relative child poverty.

Families and children are suffering from a blizzard of cuts including restrictions on tax credits, cuts to the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit, abolition of the Child Trust Fund, abolition of the Educational Maintenance Grant, freezing of child benefit, abolition of the health in pregnancy grant to name just a few of the cuts hurting families. All  taking place in the wider context of a fiscal consolidation sucking demand out of the economy, causing high unemployment levels and a double dip recession. It’s not surprising there has been such a huge squeeze on family finances recently.

These cuts are all the more depressing when considered alongside the centrepiece of George Osborne’s recent budget which handed millionaires a £40,000 tax cut and did nothing new to help defeat child poverty.

And what is happening to child poverty levels today? Save the Children reminded us in Britain we have 3.6 million children living in poverty. CPAG’s confirms that “Already the number of children living in workless families is on the increase, ‘NEET’ and youth unemployment is at record levels, the living standards of low-income families are falling as benefits and tax credits fail to keep pace with the price increases they face. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that absolute poverty is already rising and relative poverty will soon rise as well.”

As a response this week Iain Duncan Smith decided to argue that the relative poverty measure is too narrow. It is certainly true that child poverty is multi dimensional and other related factors need to be taken into account but any genuine onslaught against child poverty cannot deny the importance of income levels. Quite simply Iain Duncan Smith won’t abolish child poverty if he refuses to take account of income levels.

We have always recognised that there are many reasons why families fall into poverty or why families remain in poverty. We’ve always known that the policy response would have to be multi-faceted. That’s why I would argue that the introduction of Sure Start Children’s Centres was one of the most important policies of the last Labour government. This week I will be visiting a brilliant Sure Start centre in my constituency to read to local children as part of BookStart week. Again Bookstart is another initiative fully deserving our continued support as one of the tools at our disposal to give children a better start in life. It would be an absolute tragedy if Michael Gove doesn’t secure its funding in the future.

As we start to shift gear on our policy development work in the run up to the next general election we need to begin to think how we will continue to tackle child poverty and reverse the inevitable lost ground of the Tory-Liberal years. As campaigners we need to keep up the pressure on child poverty while offering a sense of how we will act in government. But of course we will have to be realistic about the state of the public finances we are likely to inherit given the mess George Osborne is making.

I would argue that developing a system of universal childcare is absolutely key to any future Labour government’s child poverty ambitions with the international evidence generally showing  that those nations that help mums in work have lower child poverty rates. So helping women move into work is absolutely vital. Equally however, we need to recognise that being in employment is not enough while low pay features so regularly in the UK economy. For example, 58 per cent of children in poverty live in households where at least one person is working.

In the meantime we need to do all we are able to tackle child poverty in those places where we’re in power locally. For example, in Leicester we sadly have one of the highest levels of persistent child poverty in the country. That’s why our impressive Deputy Mayor Rory Palmer established the Leicester Child Poverty Commission to consider what we need to do across the city to tackle child poverty and what actions the City Council can take to do just that. We all recognise there will be limits on what can be achieved at a local government level but it’s important Labour locally is doing all that’s possible to give Leicester children the best start in life.

Jon Ashworth is the Labour MP for Leicester South @jonashworth and the Leicester Child Poverty Commission is on twitter @LeicCPC

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  • JC

    Well, according to the BBC ”
    The number of children living in poverty in the UK fell by 300,000 last year as household incomes dropped”. 

  • What criterion are they using to measure poverty?  Poverty due to lack of money? Poverty due to lack of disposable income? What is the income being spent on? Essentials, non-essentials? I don’t think anyone in the UK lives in real poverty such as the slums we see in 3rd World countries. 

  • aracataca

    Of course the blunt end of the government’s policies has fallen on the disabled  and disabled children in particular. They seem determined to keep them in poverty and hardship. In my own area the local Tory council have cut transport for disabled children to get to school and this has meant parents pushing little tots to school in their wheelchairs. I am the proud father of a little disabled boy who is unable to toilet himself and cannot speak. He is 11 but has the cognitive age of a 3 year old. Our tax credits have been reduced to one eighth of the figure that they were under the last government.
    You can be sure that there are 3 groups of people that this cabinet of millionaires couldn’t give a toss about, namely, the disabled, children and the poor. 

  • Bill Lockhart

    We all know that feckless benefit claimants breed like rabbits to get more benefits by way of their offspring and council house tenancies or bigger private tenancies in mansions. Some of these people probably do care for their children and therefore one of the best ways to shoehorn indolent trash like this into minimum wage jobs is to make their children suffer a bit in order to make the parents shift themselves. Iain Duncan Smith is right. When the bellies of the children of benefit claimants begin to grumble they’re much more likely to accept low paid work to prevent those children from starving. It’s time we put a bit of stick about and were a little cruel to be kind.

    • AlanGiles

      We all know, Mr Lockhart, that you are an ignoramous who believes everything that the Daily Mail tells him to think, even filching their favourite words (you and Dore c0nstantly parrot the word “feckless”.

      Nice to know that the right wing world is so caring they would be happy to see children suffer for the perceived wrongs of the parents.

      You don’t want to be “cruel to be kind”  you want to be cruel to be cruel:  let’s not forget “indolent trash” like Duncan-Smith (and Purnell) fiddled their parliamentary expenses. Had they been benefit claimants caught out they would have been prosecuted.

    • treborc1

      I feel the same Bill, and due to this I’ve got to say we must live in the hope of the rising of our leader again…

      It’s nice to know that when rising he will have the generals and the office workers and the ideology will be in Place.

      Heil Hitler.

      We must live for this must we not.

      At Auschwitz
      children were often killed upon arrival.
      Children born in the camp were generally killed on the spot. Near the end of the
      war, in order to cut expenses and save gas, cost-accountant considerations led to an order to place living
      children directly into the ovens or throw them into open burning pits.

      Lucie Adelsberger
      describes the
      life of the children:

      “Like the adults,
      the kids were only a mere bag of bones, without muscles
      or fat, and the thin skin like pergament scrubbed through
      and through beyond the hard bones of the skeleton and
      ignited itself to ulcerated wounds. Abscesses covered the
      underfed body from the top to the bottom and thus
      deprived it from the last rest of energy. The mouth was
      deeply gnawed by noma-abscesses, hollowed out the jaw and
      perforated the cheeks like cancer”. Many decaying bodies were full
      of water because of the burning hunger, they swelled to shapeless
      bulks which could not move anymore. Diarrhoea, lasting for weeks,
      dissolved their irresistant bodies until nothing remained


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