Even before the new coronavirus crisis bites on living standards, penury still condemns youngsters to miss out on all sorts of things—from bicycles to holidaysby Mike Brewer and Tom Clark / March 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
See new polling on attitudes towards child poverty reduction today
As the millennium loomed, Tony Blair threw his trademark triangulation to the winds, and made his most radical pledge: “Our historic aim will be for ours to be the first generation to end child poverty. It will take a generation. It is a 20-year mission, but I believe it can be done.” Before long Blair was privately heard to lament half-jokingly that it was a winning line which, even as the words left his mouth, prompted the worry “oh shit, that sounds expensive.” Chancellor Gordon Brown soon made sure it was exactly that, specifying a particular breadline, and then locking down hard targets for the number of children to be lifted above it by particular dates. Every budget was used to ramp up tax credits to poor families, and for four or five years the mountain of poverty that had built up so fast in Thatcher’s day was falling almost as quickly.
But this spring, the clock has run down on Blair’s 20 years, and child poverty is barely a percentage point down on where it was in 2000. Worse, it is projected by the Resolution Foundation to return to its post-Thatcher peak. So what went wrong? Stagnant wages took hold even before the 2008 crash, and then—from around 2012—George Osborne’s austerity cuts.
Yet the toll of the slump itself went way beyond Britain. Our place in the poverty league table spurred Blair into action, but it’s not quite so shaming today. There are still more poor British kids than French, German or Swedish, but poverty has risen in many European countries, and is entrenched in the US. Meanwhile, even before the new coronavirus crisis bites on living standards, penury still condemns youngsters to miss out on all sorts of things—from bicycles to holidays.