In parts of the country, a child is now more likely to grow up in poverty than not. If the government doesn't act now, their failure will haunt them for decadesby Dawn Foster / January 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
Bethnal Green is one of the areas named in a new report on child poverty. Photo: PA A child born today in one of four constituencies—in London, Bethnal Green and Bow, and Poplar and Limehouse, and in Birmingham’s Ladywood and Hodge Hill—is, after housing costs, more likely to grow up in poverty than not. New research by the End Child Poverty coalition lists the areas with both the highest child poverty and the greatest increase, with the two mostly eliding. Child poverty in particular has worsened at a far quicker rate than amongst adults and pensioners: in Bethnal Green, child poverty has increased 11 percentage points in two years. This is just the beginning. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank not known for leaning left, has warned absolute child poverty will increase by 4 per cent by 2021-22, with 400,000 children plunged into poverty as a directly attributable result of the rollout of Universal Credit. The government’s obsession with reducing the benefit bill at any cost, without considering the two main components of the expenditure—an ageing population and a hefty housing benefit bill creamed off by private landlords—has seen the poorest become even poorer, with benefits being drastically cut in real terms. Food banks use has exploded. In almost every school I’ve visited in the past five years, teachers report hungry and distracted children. The number of children in temporary accommodation, classed as homeless, has not stopped climbing. In essence, the poorest are growing even poorer, and their life chances being winnowed away by hunger and poor accommodation. Several factors contribute to this: the freeze on benefits hasn’t been accompanied by a freeze in energy and fuel costs; many families are earning less as they shift to Universal Credit, especially those with children; and the ‘poverty premium’—the ironic fact that life costs more when you’re poor—increases the outlay families with less have to spend on basics. Energy and electricity costs far more using meters, which many families in rented homes or on benefits are forced to use. Many big cities are also experiencing food deserts, previously an American phenomenon, where larger supermarkets are often too far to make shopping at them feasible, leaving families reliant on smaller shops with a limited, more expensive range. The government’s answer is to quibble over the definitions of poverty, arguing that 60 per cent of median earnings doesn’t equal destitution. Academics and charities disagree, and point out that still constitutes going without. Research by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Institute for Public Policy Research claims a million more children will grow up in poverty under the cumulative benefit cuts proposed by the government and currently being rolled out. Now, even keeping track of how many children are in poverty could be difficult: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs announced the statistics used in the ECP’s research are on hold due to the complication of Universal Credit rollout introduced into their data-gathering. Rather than considering what could help—more social housing to lower housing costs and allow people to keep more of their earnings, a benefits increase in line with the cost of living, a Universal Credit rollout pause, and a scrapping of the two-child policy on child benefit—the Conservatives plough ahead with their histrionic attempts to blame those on low incomes for their plight, telling the poor to get jobs in areas where there are none, or few that pay barely enough, claiming people use food banks deliberately, or that people are hungry because they can’t cook. No one enjoys being poor, but poverty holds an entire childhood to hostage, and destroys a period you cannot get back, harming your educational and emotional development for life. The Tories’ youth problem won’t be helped by callously and willingly leaving children in many areas to go hungry, in neighbourhoods where more children are poor than are not. Increasing child poverty knowingly and seemingly without a conscience will be a legacy that will haunt the Conservatives in the way that Margaret Thatcher remained the ‘milk snatcher’ for millions.