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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Child Poverty Shames Us All

Friday, 22 February 2019

Of all the evils that inflict our society, child poverty must surely be one of the worst. It should be one of the first duties of any government to stamp it down wherever and whenever it raises its head.

So you can imagine my shock and anger when I read a recent report by the Resolution Foundation think tank (chaired, I should add, by a former Conservative minister) on child poverty. The report, titled “The Living Standards Outlook 2019”, concludes that child poverty has risen year-on-year since 2011. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also predicts that if things keep going the way they’re going then by 2023-24 the proportion of all children in the UK living in poverty will reach 37%, exceeding the previous record of 34% in the early 1990s. That’s 1 million more children living in poverty over the next five years. As is always the case, this will hit some children harder than others. Children of single parents, or who have two or more siblings, or whose parents don’t work, or who live in private or social rented housing; by 2024 they are all more likely to be living in poverty than not.

Not only is it morally indefensible, but the impact it has for those living in poverty echoes down through their entire lives and communities. On average, children living in poverty are more likely than their more affluent peers to experience a variety of health problems – including malnutrition, chronic disease and mental health issues. The effects of poverty can also have a severe impact on a child’s education, with the inevitable consequences this has for them going on to further education and training or finding employment when they grow up. More harrowing than these facts and figures are the accounts from the children themselves; the shame of going to school in ill-fitting or worn-out clothes, the isolation that comes from not being able to invite friends over for dinner, and the stigma that they often feel has followed them far beyond their early years.

The reasons for increasing poverty can often be complex, but the Resolution Foundation quite rightly points the finger at two major causes. Although the number of people in work in the UK remains high, wage growth since the 2008 Financial Crisis continues to be worryingly and stubbornly low. The Resolution Foundation estimates that non-pensioner incomes will remain stagnant for the next two years, and rise by an average of just 0.7% a year for the following three years after. Put simply, for many people work is no longer a route out of poverty.

This has been made worst by the impact of the government’s cuts to benefits. Despite some U-turns, the vast majority of the £12 billion in cuts announced back in 2015 remain government policy. This year alone they will take away £1.5 billion from the poorest and most vulnerable in our society through a continuing freeze of most benefits (which, due to inflation, means it’s actually a cut) and the “two child limit” for child benefit. I’ve written in the past about how the benefits system in its current form fails at both supporting people and getting them back into work. It’s become even clearer since then that for too many the safety net of society is no longer there to catch them if they stumble.

We are doing what we can to address some of this in Tameside, working with charities and partners to help people gain skills and employment, tackling issues such as poor health or debt and putting on events to make sure that children in poverty can have a day out or a present at Christmas. But I need to make it clear that local authorities can only do so much with the resources and power they have at their disposal. For real and lasting change at a national level, the government needs to accept the child poverty disaster they’ve created and put in place serious policies to reverse it. There’s no time to waste, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the future of many of our children may depend on it.


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