Since the coalition government came to power almost five years ago, child poverty has increased to 3.5 m. Nationally, around a third of children live in poverty, with levels as high as four in ten children in London. Most of these children (around 63%) live in working households. If the coalition policies continue, Barnado’s predict another 1 million children will be pushed in to poverty by 2020.

According to new research published by Kellogg’s, four in ten teachers say they see children arriving hungry at school every day. The vast majority – almost 7 in 10 – of these teachers said this was due to families struggling financially and over half linked hunger to changes to benefits. The overall picture of child hunger looked bleaker to the teachers surveyed now than it did a year ago and only one in five teachers said they never saw children arrive hungry at school.

This is what poverty means to all too many children and in London an earlier survey for the London Food Board found that 74,000 in the capital of the sixth richest country in the world often or always went to be hungry. If a country can’t ensure its children are fed, it does not deserve to be called civilised. Feeding Britain, the cross party investigation in to food poverty led by Frank Field MP and the Bishop of Truro, highlighted the significant issues facing our society. The report’s introduction states that ‘it is time to look again at the state of our country and to review the fundamental values that led to the creation of our welfare state.’

One of the greatest confidence tricks of this government has been the demonisation of the poor and the remarkable feat of setting people on low income against each other while overseeing a continued rise of inequality. This inequality means that just two days in to the working year, on ‘Fat Cat Tuesday’ as it was dubbed by the High Pay Centre, top executives had earned £27,000, the equivalent of a year’s average earnings. Meanwhile, the number of people in work but earning poverty pay is rising.

After a week when some commentators have suggested there is little difference between the main parties, it is worth reminding ourselves of the need to place our Labour values to the core of what we say over the next few months. Not just for those conversations we will be having on the doorstep but to remind ourselves why we have to fight for a Labour victory.

This week’s political message from the Labour Party was about the NHS. It is clear that this will be a central theme of the election campaign, however, it cannot be the only issue on which we fight. We need to present a values based vision of what we want the country to be like in five years’ time – a country that is fairer, more equal and in which people have enough money to feed themselves and their families.

Part of this vision needs to reflect the values that are clear from some of the successes we had in government. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are not going to do this for us but it is an important part of demonstrating how our values and our record underpin where we want the country to go.

Child poverty is not inevitable. It is possible to reduce it. Labour reduced the numbers of children living in poverty by 800,000 when we were in power. Not only does the Government have a statutory duty to end child poverty by 2020, from a moral perspective as well, it has to be our goal to eliminate it.

It’s easy to be despondent about where we are headed in the polls. I am tired of people debating which party they would rather be in coalition with. I am tired of people suggesting that it might not do us any harm to be in opposition for a few more years. It might not do some of us harm individually but it would do massive harm to the most vulnerable in society. If we are unhappy at what has happened to the fabric of our society in the past five years, we need to be clear that a future Conservative led government or coalition would take us further down their road to ruin.

Last week, I visited Pecan foodbank in South London and was reminded about the individuals, many of them children, who are being left behind by the current government. Parents skipping meals so their children can eat. People down on their luck through no fault of their own who use up their savings when they lose their job and then have to wait months for benefits claims to be processed once their savings have run out. Individuals with mental health issues sanctioned – in some cases for years – when they get turned down by ATOS and can’t cope with the benefits system.

It serves the current government for people to be despondent and cynical about politics. They don’t want people to see the difference between the main parties. It is up to us to make sure they do. To do this we need to be hungry not just to do reasonably well and maybe scrape in as the largest party but to do everything in our power to win an outright majority.

The legacy of poverty in childhood stays with people throughout their lives. With millions of children already living in poverty, and all indications showing that many more are likely to join them unless the political direction of travel in this country changes, we are facing the fight not just for a Labour victory but for these children to have a better future.

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8 Comments

  1. john locke says:

    I have worked for Indian street children charities for over forty years, since realising i was paying as much for one night in a five star hotel in Bombay as many have to live on for a year, so I am not unaware of what child poverty is..

    What you are referring to is “relative” child poverty..measured as an income less that sixty per cent of the median wage. This is a ludicrous way to measure poverty. Every time a footballer receives a rise of a thousand pounds a week more people are thrown into “relative poverty”..

    Of course there are poor children in the UK there always have been and there probably always will be and it matters little which party is in government..In fact the last Labour government failed to make any indent into “relative poverty”. Labour earned significant political capital in 1999 when it pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve it by 2010, with Gordon Brown describing it as a “scar on Britain’s soul”. But around 2.9 million children were still living in poverty in 2007-08, the same as the previous year, and by the time they left office little had actually changed.

    The present government has fared no better, in 2014 there were still 2.3 million children in the UK classified as in relative poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that on current projections, by 2020 child poverty is likely not to have been eradicated but to have increased by 39%.

    By using relative poverty as a measure does the case no favours. Banging on about “Fat Cats” does not help, having less than your neighbour is not poverty..

    So what is the answer? Well with relative poverty there is no answer, no matter how rich everyone becomes because relative poverty is a percentage, there will always be those living below the median salary, that is simple mathematics.So lets find a new way to measure. income is just one way to measure poverty, and a particularly tricky (and narrow) way at that – to measure poverty strictly by income fails to accurately reflect people’s true economic circumstances. Income alone ignores the effects of things like Tax Credits, in work benefits and housing subsidies, donations from charities or family members or even regional variations in the cost of living.. An income of £20,000 a year can buy you a lot more in rural Wales than it can in Chelsea. The lifestyle chances of people with the same income can be very different.

    Surely, as well as income, analysis of poverty should also have some baseline measurement of quality of life. Access to telecommunications, proximity and access to schools, proximity and access to health services, caloric and nutrient intake, entertainment opportunities, living space, etc.so you start to measure by consumption rather than income..

  2. This is important but it would be much better to leave out the Kellogg’s ‘research’. There must be better sources to quote than that and teachers’ opinions. It matters too much to cite vague research findings.

  3. Ofsted? What is their view on all of this?

  4. john locke says:

    I have worked for Indian street children charities for over thirty years, since realising i was paying as much for one night in a five star hotel in Bombay as many have to live on for a year, so I am not unaware of what child poverty is..

    What you are referring to is “relative” child poverty..measured as an income less that sixty per cent of the median wage. This is a ludicrous way to measure poverty. Every time a footballer receives a rise of a thousand pounds a week more people are thrown into “relative poverty”..

    Of course there are poor children in the UK there always have been and there probably always will be and it matters little which party is in government..In fact the last Labour government failed to make any indent into “relative poverty”. Labour earned significant political capital in 1999 when it pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve it by 2010, with Gordon Brown describing it as a “scar on Britain’s soul”. But around 2.9 million children were still living in poverty in 2007-08, the same as the previous year, and by the time they left office little had actually changed.

    The present government has fared no better, in 2014 there were still 2.3 million children in the UK classified as in relative poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that on current projections, by 2020 child poverty is likely not to have been eradicated but to have increased by 39%.

    By using relative poverty as a measure does the case no favours. Banging on about “Fat Cats” does not help, having less than your neighbour is not poverty..

    So what is the answer? Well with relative poverty there is no answer, no matter how rich everyone becomes because relative poverty is a percentage, there will always be those living below the median salary, that is simple mathematics.So lets find a new way to measure. income is just one way to measure poverty, and a particularly tricky (and narrow) way at that – to measure poverty strictly by income fails to accurately reflect people’s true economic circumstances. Income alone ignores the effects of things like Tax Credits, in work benefits and housing subsidies, donations from charities or family members or even regional variations in the cost of living.. An income of £20,000 a year can buy you a lot more in rural Wales than it can in Chelsea. The lifestyle chances of people with the same income can be very different.

    Surely, as well as income, analysis of poverty should also have some baseline measurement of quality of life. Access to telecommunications, proximity and access to schools, proximity and access to health services, caloric and nutrient intake, entertainment opportunities, living space, etc. so you start to measure by consumption rather than income..

    1. Dear Mr Locke
      You make excellent observations here.
      I would like to make some comments of my own in response please:

      1] How is optimal nutrition for each individual child measured as people are born with different genes and the old saying is that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” means that we do not all thrive on the same diet?

      2] How can we ensure that all children obtain optimal nutrition so as to be able to thrive?

      3] How can we ensure that all children have optimal living conditions?

      4] How can we ensure that all children have optimal loving families?

      I think this really is the issue as there can, as you say, be “relative” poverty but the real issue is can a child in the United Kingdom be assured of a safe and happy childhood brought up in the Welfare State that ensures a child’s progress from cradle to adulthood and grave?

      That is the big question in my mind.

      What do you think?

      Thank you very much for raising such important issues.

      Rosemary Cantwell

  5. john locke says:

    Well i wish i had the answers to your questions but I dont, I just want better outcomes for poor children. “can a child in the United Kingdom be assured of a safe and happy childhood brought up in the Welfare State that ensures a child’s progress from cradle to adulthood and grave?” ..unfortunately the answer is no, due to financial pressures the welfare state can at best only be a safety net not a lifestyle choice..The real solution is to make the parents productive enough so that they can produce enough for themselves — and for their children. As was said about the poor in India, what poor people need, are not more humanitarians like Mother Theresa, but more businessman like Bill Gates…

  6. Dear Mr Locke
    I agree that business does improve welfare. But when business fails as in the world downturn, then there can be great suffering too. Businesses no longer keep the economy afloat and it becomes a question not about people being productive enough because there is nobody to buy their goods and services. This is the problem inter alia.
    There has always been some kind of welfare state from early times of course. The family unit is the “economy” and the State is the family writ large.
    We look after our weaker brethren and surely that is our moral duty. Surely Mother Teresa is equally needed as is Bill Gates and for the same reasons. Wealth is relative. Extremely wealthy people give alms in the way of giving business opportunities and the Bill Gates Foundation is essential. But so to are the small gifts of kindness and humanity on a daily basis between all human beings. There truly is no division here, surely?
    What do you think?
    Rosemary Cantwell

  7. john locke says:

    Work eventually is the best way to reduce poverty.I think people need a hand up not a hand out..just like the “war on terror” and the “war on drugs ” have failed due to the same old “solutions”.. the “war on child poverty” needs new solutions, not more of the same that have been shown not to work.

What do you think?

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