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Laurie Penny: As they welcome their new daughter, the Camerons should think of the children

The Camerons might consider how coalition cuts will affect the babies born in Britain today

Along with 2,000 other women in Britain and approximately 450,000 women across the world, Samantha Cameron gave birth to a child today. The baby is a girl -- and she is lucky. Her parents are lavishly well-off members of the political ruling class in one of the richest nations in the world, with a combined yearly salary that puts them well into the top 1 per cent of earners. Mum and Dad own a property empire worth millions, and hold the keys to No 10.

Little Miss Cameron will spend her earliest years in the media spotlight, but she can at least count on an excellent education at a top state primary school, such as St Mary Abbots in Kensington, which her sister Nancy currently attends, alongside many privileged sons and daughters of the financial and political elite. She will have every possible attention paid to her developmental, emotional and physical needs; she will have plenty of good food, presents, holidays in the sun and lots of love and care from her parents and an army of support staff.

She will have no problem paying for university, even though, thanks to her father's government, the costs of attending are likely to be significantly higher by the time she enters. She will easily be able to finance herself through internships and work placements to buy her entry into an elite job. She will never know hunger, or hopelessness, or financial uncertainty. For the newest addition to the Cameron clan, life will be easy and comfortable. For most of the other babies born today, however, the outlook is less rosy.

On a day when his new government's approval ratings are lower than at any point since the general election, Cameron's new bundle of electoral joy may well serve to remind dillusioned Tory defectors that the Conservatives really are the party of "the family" -- especially the heterosexual, heteronormative, married, double-earning, higher-income, upper-middle-class family. Let's not forget, however, that on the day that David and Samantha Cameron welcomed their fourth child, 700 babies were born into poverty in Britain. And they are in for a tough ride.

The austerity cuts imposed by Cameron's coalition government will hit these newborns' families hard, meaning that many of them will enjoy a much lower standard of living than they could have expected under Labour. Their parents may not be able to afford to feed them a healthy, balanced diet or to give them birthday and Christmas presents. They will attend whichever local school can afford to take them, including some 200 state schools whose promised funding for badly needed building restoration has just been withdrawn by the coalition. After the signalled cuts to housing benefit come into force, many of them will grow up in cramped, unhealthy, substandard accommodation far from local amenities.

The babies born to poor families today will be less likely to achieve their potential at school, less likely to be able to afford to attend university or further education and more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder than those born to wealthy families. Before 24 August 2012, these poorer babies will already be significantly more likely to exhibit lower levels of attainment and well-being than children from better-off families; by 2016, less able children from families such as the Camerons will have overtaken more able children from lower-income families.

In addition, the children who were born today in inner Manchester are already likely to die six years earlier than babies born to families in the Camerons' Notting Hill quarter, in London. Child poverty and inequality were not eradicated under Labour, but the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron's government could spell disaster for the hundreds of children born today into less fortunate households -- particularly those born to single parents, over whom the axe of economic judgement is casting a long shadow.

David Cameron and his family will be celebrating the birth of their daughter today, and rightly so. If he is serious about building a society in which every child can thrive, however, the Prime Minister may want to remember those 700 babies being born into poverty in Britain in the course of the day, and ask himself how his policymaking will affect their future. Cameron the family man has a duty to protect every child in Britain, not just those who, like his new baby girl, are fortunate enough to be born to wealthy couples.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Want to beat child poverty? End the freeze on working-age benefits

Freezing working-age benefits at a time of rising prices is both economically and morally unsound. 

We serve in politics to change lives. Yet for too long, many people and parts of Britain have felt ignored. Our response to Brexit must respond to their concerns and match their aspirations. By doing so, we can unite the country and build a fairer Britain.

Our future success as a country depends on making the most of all our talents. So we should begin with a simple goal – that child poverty must not be a feature of our country’s future.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that relative child poverty will see the biggest increase in a generation in this Parliament. That is why it is so troubling that poverty has almost disappeared from the political agenda under David Cameron, and now Theresa May.

The last Labour Government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. So we have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.

In my Barnsley constituency, we have led a campaign bringing together Labour party members, community groups, and the local Labour Council to take action. My constituency party recently published its second child poverty report, which included contributions from across our community on addressing this challenge.

Ideas ranged from new requirements on developments for affordable housing, to expanding childcare, and the great example set by retired teachers lending their expertise to tutor local students. When more than 200 children in my constituency fall behind in language skills before they even start school, that local effort must be supported at the national level.

In order to build a consensus around renewed action, I will be introducing a private member’s bill in Parliament. It will set a new child poverty target, with requirements to regularly measure progress and report against the impact of policy choices.

I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action. In response, I hope that the Government will make this a priority in order to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to make Britain a country that works for everyone.

The Autumn Statement in two months’ time is an opportunity to signal a new approach. Planned changes to tax and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten pounds from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and short-sighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.

Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. That would not only be morally right, but also sound economics.

It is estimated that one pound in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. It lowers productivity and limits spending power, which undermine the strong economy we need for the future.

Yet the human cost of child poverty is the greatest of all. When a Sure Start children’s centre is lost, it closes a door on opportunity. That is penny wise but pound foolish and it must end now.

The smarter approach is to recognise that a child’s earliest years are critical to their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.

This is the cause of our times. To end child poverty so that no-one is locked out of the opportunity for a better future. To stand in the way of a Government that seeks to pass by on the other side. Then to be in position to replace the Tories at the next election.

By doing so, we can answer that demand for change from people across our country. And we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those who need it most.

That is how we can begin to build a fairer Britain.
 
 

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.