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Politicians must not be scared to take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ and come up with a big, bold plan to fix it – Children’s Commissioner for England

  •  Children’s Commissioner for England publishes a cross-party call from top politicians and researchers for an over-arching national plan to tackle the blight of child poverty.
  • The collection shows there are no easy fixes in tackling children poverty but argues Government could both help families and stop poverty determining children’s life chances.
  • Anne Longfield warns we have now reached a ‘tipping point’ where both child poverty is rising and the educational outcomes for children in poverty are getting worse – with Covid accelerating these trends.
  • Anne Longfield argues the scale of challenge means both main parties in recent years have put child poverty in the “too difficult” box.
  • Children’s Commissioner urges Government to make reducing child poverty, and improving the chances for children in poverty, one of defining challenges of the age, alongside decarbonising the economy, providing health and social care to an ageing population and preparing the labour market for automation

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Thursday) publishing a call from a cross-party collection of politicians and campaigners calling for urgent action to tackle the blight of child poverty.

The set of short essays, ‘Child poverty: The crisis we can’t keep ignoring’, ‘Child poverty: The crisis we can’t keep ignoring’,  includes contributions from Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, DWP Select Committee Chair Stephen Timms MP, Legatum Institute Director Baroness Philippa Stroud, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, David Burrowes of Strengthening Families, Edward Davies of the Centre for Social Justice, Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Oasis Charitable Trust founder Steve Chalke, Association of Directors of Children’s Services Vice President Charlotte Ramsden, Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust and Hannah Slaughter of the Resolution Foundation. 

Introducing the contributions, Anne Longfield warns that child poverty in England will continue to rise during this Parliament unless the Government commits to a bold, broad response, and that the Covid crisis is creating a child poverty timebomb that could see millions more children falling into poverty without urgent help. In 2010/11, there were 3.6 million children living in relative poverty in the UK after housing costs. By the start of the Anne Longfield’s term as Children’s Commissioner, in 2014/15, the number had risen to 3.9 million, rising to 4.2 million or 30% of children by 2018/19.  By the end of this parliament, even if there is a strong economic recovery, one in three children will be living in relative poverty – a level not seen since the 1990s.

While growing up in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean an unhappy childhood, it can make life a lot harder for children. In a survey carried out last year by the Children’s Commissioner, one in five children listed “not having enough money” as one of their top three worries. 5% listed “not having enough food or clothes”.  Not only does poverty bring material hardship for children, it harms their future life chances. At every stage of education, poorer children do worse than their more affluent peers. As a result, they are more likely to enter adulthood with fewer opportunities. Previous Children’s Commissioner’s Office research shows that children receiving Free School Meals (FSM) are more than twice as likely as their peers to leave education without a Level 2 Qualification (5 GCSEs, a technical equivalent or an apprenticeship).

For the first time in decades, the disadvantage gap between children in poverty and their peers during school has increased, while the disadvantage gap at age 19 has been increasing for several years. In short, for the first time in decades there is a double-whammy of rising child poverty and worsening life chances for children in poverty. Covid-19 will only have accelerated these trends.

Anne Longfield is also urging the Government to end the uncertainty and worry facing families around whether the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift introduced by the Chancellor at the start of the Covid crisis will be retained. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation this week shows that over 300,000 children would be shifted into poverty if the uplift is removed in April.

In the set of essays:

  • Baroness Stroud sets out the importance of Government understanding child poverty, its prevalence and its different manifestations.
  • Tony Blair explains the importance of an over-arching child poverty strategy which connects different elements of Government together.
  • Stephen Timms MP takes this further with a call for Government to return to an over-arching child poverty target which provides the underlying impetus for a series of further decisions.
  • Robert Halfon MP sets out the need to focus on those children currently being left behind, and what we need to do now, and in the future, to help them.
  • Ed Davies emphasises the role of the family in supporting children’s education outcomes, draws the lessons from previous economic crises and calls for immediate action to strengthen families.
  • David Burrowes looks at the community infrastructure we need to address the social isolation which accompanies poverty and which has been shown to impact on children’s development.
  • Steve Chalke writes about the need to work with deprived communities to help them to help themselves.
  • Charlotte Ramsden writes about how the state can support communities and families by working with them.
  • Helen Barnard discusses the barriers to work as a way out of poverty for some families.
  • Emma Revie focusses on the blight of food poverty and hunger, setting out what is needed to ensure families can feed their children.
  • Hannah Slaughter looks at the relationship between work and social security in helping families out of poverty.

Anne Longfield 100x100Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“Child poverty was already a problem before the pandemic, but it has been laid bare by the Covid crisis and cannot be ignored any longer. The shocking image of a family being sent half a carrot in a food parcel shows a system of support that, as well as often falling short, is at times demeaning and stigmatising.

“Yet some are still squeamish about even using the phrase ‘child poverty’. Neither of the two main political parties fought the last General Election on plans to reduce child poverty significantly, despite the fact it has been rising for most of the past decade.

“In the short term, I want the Government to commit to keeping the £20 UC uplift. But too often, these kind of policy changes to help people in poverty are a sticking plaster for the symptoms, made as a result of short-term political embarrassment. That must change.

“I am pleased to publish this collection of essays, which makes powerful arguments for an overhaul of the current system, with positive and practical solutions for cutting the number of children living in poverty. Both Ministers and the Opposition should take these ideas on board.

“I believe child poverty is one of the four major political, economic and social challenges facing us, along with decarbonising our economy, looking after an ageing population, and preparing the jobs market for automation. We need to treat it with the same seriousness, and even greater urgency.

“Politicians must take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ now, and come up with a big, bold, long-term plan for fixing it.”

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