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 Under Universal Credit, as soon as a second earner enters work, 65p of every £1 earned will be lost to withdrawn benefits.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. 

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

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