Friday, 15 May 2015

Eliminating child poverty

So it falls to the new Conservative government to comply with the Child Poverty Act 2010 and ensure the UK abolishes child poverty by 2020. What a wonderful legacy that would be for the Tories at the time of the next general election.

It was New Labour under Tony Blair that in 1999 decided to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020 and to halve it by 2010. In 2007 David Cameron committed his party to achieving this ambition saying, 'ending child poverty is central to improving child well-being.' The 2020 target was enshrined in law in 2010.

Between 1999 and 2010 the number of children living in poverty fell by over 1 million to 2.3 million which was the lowest number since the mid 1980s, but was still 600,000 more than the 2010 target.

In July 2012 the former health secretary Alan Milburn and who is now chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said, 'I don't believe, frankly, that there is a snowball's chance in hell that we will hit the 2020 target.'

According to the Child Poverty Action Group today there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, that's 27% but it can be much higher in some wards, for example in that part of Stockton-On-Tees (where the current 'Benefits Street' programmes were filmed) the figure is 55%. In other parts of the north east such as parts of Middlesbrough and Newcastle it is even higher. (See: North East Child Poverty Commission)

If child poverty continues to rise for the next 5 years at the same rate as during the Coalition, we can expect that by 2020 the number of children living in poverty will be close to 4.7 million, that's higher than the starting point back in 1999.

Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends such as swimming lessons, being different and feeling excluded. And it has long lasting effects, children entitled to free school meals (a rule of thumb for measuring poverty) do less well at GCSE than their peers; they leave school with fewer qualifications and earn less over the course of their working life.

Two-thirds of children in poverty are growing up in families where at least one parent is working. So the problem is more about low wages than it is about benefits.

The UK is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in fact we are due to be inspected on our progress to implement the 54 convention articles later this year. Article 27 says: 'Children have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs. Governments should help families and guardians who cannot afford to provide this, particularly with regard to food, clothing and housing'. I wonder what the inspectors will say about that.

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