The damage of Osborne's cap on benefit increases is now clear

The new inflation figures show that it is under-indexation that will drive up child poverty rates inexorably.

At first glance, September’s inflation figures released this week don’t seem particularly newsworthy – that CPI is now running at 2.7 per cent is nothing really to write home about. But for the six million families in the UK who receive benefits of some kind or another, these rather dull figures are in fact highly significant.

Cast your mind back to the Autumn Statement last December when George Osborne announced that most working-age benefits and tax credits would no longer track prices, but instead would be uprated by a nominal 1 per cent for the next three years. As September’s figures are the traditional reference point used to uprate benefit levels, the figures published yesterday tell us how bad the damage done by this policy in its first year will be.

So, a family with two children will lose almost £39 of the value of their child benefit in 2014/15; parents with two children will see their child tax credit eroded by over £100; and low-paid families claiming working tax credit could lose as much as £66 over the same period. Not huge cuts perhaps? Tell that to families living with tight margins and for whom this represents a rather large proportion of income. These losses will be compounded by subsequent losses, and unless benefit levels are over-indexed in the future, they are locked in forever.

The pain is more acutely felt, perhaps, because there is a perfect model for maintaining the value of benefits. The triple-lock is the acme of uprating mechanisms, ensuring the basic state pension risesin line with earnings, prices or a minimum of 2.5 per cent, whichever is the higher. It’s the ultimate poverty-protector, rightly ensuring that older people’s living standards don’t drift away from the mainstream over time.

Working-age benefits have never been similarly privileged. Instead, they have a chequered history of being uprated with reference to a bewildering range of indicators: by earnings (in the 1970s), a mix of RPI and related indexes (1981 onwards), and CPI (from 2010). In contrast with pensions, there is no stable settlement for children’s benefits, leaving them based on ad hoc decisions about what can be afforded in the very short term.

Technical? Yes. Boring? A bit? But important? For sure. Contrary to popular perceptions, it is not cuts like the bedroom tax or the benefit cap that will impoverish one million more children by the next decade. Instead, as analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes clear, it is decisions about uprating that underpin this trend. Under-indexation is the engine that will drive up child poverty rates inexorably - until, that is, there’s a government prepared to put a spanner in the works and reset the machine for good.  

Two young boys play in a run down street with boarded up houses in the Govan area of Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Lindsay Judge is senior policy and research officer for the Child Poverty Action Group.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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