I was sickened and heartbroken to learn today that the number of children in the UK in absolute poverty has hit 3.7 million, after a 200,000 rise in the last year. Research from the Child Poverty Action Group, which draws on published DWP data, found that 70% of children in absolute poverty had at least one parent in work. This has been backed up by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s December 2018 research, which showed that 4 million British workers still live in poverty. Clearly this Government’s bragging about employment rates does not coincide with increased quality of life or household income.
The brutal program of cuts implemented by this Conservative Government has led to the special report by United Nations rapporteur, Philip Alston, describing the mentality behind austerity measures as “punitive, mean-spirited and callous”, and noting the sheer disconnect between the Government and the British people when it came to the impact of poverty, something that this Conservative Government claimed there was no extreme version of in the UK.
It is clear that the wilful ignorance of child poverty in the UK, and the measures implemented by this Government to precipitate it is a political choice. This Government has had the opportunity to alleviate suffering and poverty, but has opted to cut taxes for the rich instead. There is no excuse for this utterly deplorable series of choices.
Child poverty has long-lasting effects. By GCSEs, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grades. Not only does child poverty cause immense suffering to its victims but, in the long term, it will cost the Government, and by extension, the taxpayer, even more money. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that failure to address childhood poverty costs roughly £29B per year in other services that would not have been required if child poverty had been eradicated by the abandonment of callous cuts and consistent under-funding of public services.
Evidently this is a shocking dereliction of responsibility from the Government. I am calling on Ministers to abandon the freeze to children’s benefits, which causes a loss of £240 per year to families with children. I implore the Government to take their responsibilities to the vulnerable seriously and do all they can to reverse the damaging effects of politically motivated, short-sighted and amoral austerity, and commit to working towards eradicating child poverty from our country.