‘We must go further than New Labour on child poverty – and finally eliminate it’

Mary Kelly Foy
© HASPhotos/Shutterstock.com

I’m proud to be from the North East. I was brought up in Tyneside, and I raised my own family here. I’m privileged to represent the City of Durham in parliament, the best constituency in England, but there’s an issue I’m not proud of: the levels of child poverty throughout the North East. 

If there’s one point I’d like you to remember from this article it’s this: more than one third of all babies, children and young people in my region are living in poverty, according to the North East Child Poverty Commission; furthermore, between 2014/15 and 2021/22, more than 50,000 more children were pulled into poverty across the North East. That’s the steepest increase in child poverty anywhere in our country. 

No one supports child poverty, but it’s not a priority for those in power. Right now, four million children across Britain are living in poverty. The fact that more than half of Black children and 47% of Asian children are living in poverty is inexcusable. 

This is a national emergency, but where was child poverty mentioned in the spring Budget? Nowhere. Not once. Nor was it mentioned in the autumn statement; instead, the Chancellor stated that the best way to tackle poverty was through work.

Here’s the thing, though. The vast majority of children in poverty in the North East are from working families. That’s true of every other part of our country, too. So something’s not adding up.

With child poverty rising rapidly, politicians must change course

On the back of last month’s official statistics – figures that show that the share of children living in absolute poverty in Britain has risen by its highest rate for 30 years – politicians need to change course. We need a new conversation around our social security safety net, one which treats people as human beings. 

To get things going, we need to reconsider the two-child limit. I’ve called for it to be scrapped before because it’s the most cost-effective way to reduce child poverty in Britain. It would lift 300,000 children out of poverty and mean that 800,000 children are in less deep poverty. 

But we can’t stop there. Universal free school meals, including breakfasts, as well as increasing child benefit, must also be part of the discussion.

Politicians need to listen more, too. Listen to our constituents who’re bearing the brunt, and listen to the experts who can assist us in eliminating poverty.

We also need to be confident in defending the important role of our social security system in preventing poverty and eradicating destitution. After 14 years of Conservative-led governments, we’ve seen this vital safety net torn asunder by austerity.

Our aim must be to eliminate child poverty – not just reduce it

The cost to children is too high otherwise. The impact of poverty on a kid’s life can be irrevocable. It affects their education; their health, both now and in the future – and even before they are born. Children born to parents living in poverty are more likely to be low birthweight and less likely to survive the first year of life, according to the Child Poverty Action Group.

Poverty can lead to serious health inequalities throughout the rest of people’s lives as well, an issue which hasn’t been prioritised since 2010. All this comes at a cost. Eight years ago, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimated that the cost of poverty on healthcare was £29bn; it’s only got worse since then.

We know poverty can be reduced because it’s happened before. Between 1998/99 and 2010/11, for instance, more than 700,000 children were lifted out of poverty by the Labour government. The impact of early-years intervention, like Sure Start, and real investment in support like child benefit and tax credits has been well documented. 

This time, though, we need to go further. Not just reducing poverty, but eliminating it once and for all. That must start with voting out the drivers of child poverty: Tory MPs.

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