The Tories have shifted their duty of care to the most vulnerable in our society to the already stretched public and third sectors, writes Joanne McCartney AM.
A damning new survey from the National Education Union (NEU) has found that teachers are paying out of their own pockets to provide impoverished children with school uniforms and food.
Child poverty is a stain on our nation’s conscience. It is a mark of shame that in one of the world’s richest economies, an increasing proportion of children are routinely going hungry and without the daily basics needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living.
There was once a commitment to end child poverty by 2020, and between 1999-2012, good progress was being made with 80,000 children lifted above the breadline. In 2010, these efforts were reinforced with the introduction of the Child Poverty Act. But sadly, since May 2010, we’ve taken huge steps backward.
The 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Act represented the biggest departure from the campaign to end child poverty by abolishing the 2020 plan, eliminating key targets and altering how child poverty is measured. This move amounts to the removal of government accountability in this area.
When it comes to child poverty, London tops the list nationally. Of the twenty local authorities with the highest rate of child poverty, half are London boroughs including both of my London Assembly boroughs, Enfield and Haringey.
The effects of poverty on a child has lasting impacts, long into adulthood. They tend to be at higher risk of poor health, go without nutritional or regular meals and their educational attainment suffers. There is a 28% gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades.
Poverty also costs the public purse. A 2016 Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report found that the effects of poverty cost the UK £78 billion. Broken down, this figure comprises £69 billion in public service costs, a further £6 billion incurred by the knock-on effects of child poverty and £2.7 billion generated by the knock-on effects of adult poverty.
There is no single cause of poverty, nor indeed one simple solution. We find ourselves in this dire situation due to a combination of low-income, insecure work and rising living costs. Austerity measures such as the benefits freeze, benefit caps and the introduction of Universal Credit, have also seen a real term loss in income for many of the most vulnerable Londoners.
We know that one of the best ways to reduce child poverty is to increase income, and as a Living Wage Commissioner, I was involved in the decision to increase the London Living Wage to £10.55 per hour. In addition, the Good Work Standard introduced by City Hall this year will go further and encourage better working conditions for working parents. The Mayor has also allocated £6.5 million of European Social Funding to support parents into good work.
However, the fact remains that the government is in possession of all the necessary levers when it comes to making the most effective interventions. As a start, they would do well to listen to the Mayor who has made recommendations on where it is best to direct spending to bring children out of poverty and reduce Treasury costs in the long run.
The Tories have shifted their duty of care to the most vulnerable in our society to the already stretched public and third sectors.
It is inexcusable to allow child poverty to blight our society unabated, and where we find ourselves now offers a damning indictment of the government’s obsession with austerity. Our children are our future, so it is imperative that we adequately invest in them now, without delay.
Joanne McCartney is a London Assembly member for Labour.
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