Cameron is taking families back to the future - Labour will move them forwards

The PM has hit families with a triple childcare whammy of falling places, rising nursery costs and cuts to support. Labour will show there is another way.

The reports published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on family breadwinners and poverty are a wake-up call to a government hell bent on turning back the clock on child poverty and family opportunity.

The NatCen and IPPR reports for the JRF show the true depth and extent of those on the breadline, with many working families struggling to make ends meet as David Cameron’s cost of living crisis bites. The reports show that the risk of poverty is greater for children in couple families with one traditional breadwinner, with single-earner families comprising 30 per cent of the families with children in poverty in 2011/12. The reports show that 55 per cent of families in poverty have someone in work, a shocking indictment of a government allegedly committed to making work pay.

Under David Cameron many families are finding one income alone is not enough to balance family budgets at the end of each month. He has hit families with a childcare triple whammy of falling places, rising nursery costs (up six times more than wages last year) and cuts to support of up to £1,500 for some families. The JRF rightly highlight affordable, quality childcare as a key driver for tackling low maternal employment and boosting family income. Labour’s new agenda does just this.  

Labour in government made headway on these issues. The IFS has shown that during our time in office both absolute and relative poverty fell markedly. Increases in employment helped to raise family income alongside tax credits, the national minimum wage, support for childcare and investment in the early years.

David Cameron is taking us back to the future with prices rising faster than wages in 40 out of the 41 months he’s been in power. The Tory-led government is pushing families into poverty and many low paid women can only access poorly paid part-time jobs because of a lack of accessible and affordable childcare. Universal Credit will create further barriers to work for some second earner households and some women will actually pay to work if they increase their hours. Under Universal Credit, as soon as a second earner enters work, 65p of every £1 earned will be lost to withdrawn benefits. This could affect 900,000 potential second earners disincentivising work and perpetuating poverty and inequality.

Labour’s new agenda will make a difference for working families making work pay and helping parents balance work and family life. Giving parents a primary childcare guarantee to help them manage before and after school childcare will ease the logistical nightmare some face and give parents more flexibility to work. Labour will legislate so that parents can access childcare between the hours of 8am and 6pm through their local school. Extending the provision of free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents will help mums, and it is still mainly mums, to work part-time without having to worry about childcare costs. This is worth around £1,500 per child for hard pressed working families. Shared parental leave is important as well. It is crucial in giving women the choice and the chance to return to the same job and retain their earning potential, rather than taking time out of work after they have children which, for many, means they will never again have the same pay and status.

Affordable high-quality childcare, make work pay contracts for companies paying the living wage and better family-friendly policies are all part of the new agenda Labour is developing. Our new agenda is a sign of our intent for a better future for families and children.

Ed Miliband speaks to an audience on living standards at Battersea Power station on November 5, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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