Children's clothing is hung out to dry on a residential development in the London borough of Tower Hamlets on February 21, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour calls for OBR to monitor child poverty rates

The party says the watchdog should track the government's record after progress goes into reverse. 

One of Labour's proudest achievements in government was the reduction of 800,000 in child poverty from 3.4m to 2.6m, the lowest level since the mid-1980s. But the coalition's unbalanced austerity programme means that this trend has gone into reverse. In 2012-13, relative child poverty before housing costs did not change, while measured after housing costs it rose by 100,000. The forecast increase of 600,000 by 2015-16 will reverse all of the reductions that took place under Labour between 2000-01 and 2010-11. 

In response, the party is calling for the OBR, the budgetary watchdog founded by George Osborne in 2010, to be given responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the government’s progress in tackling child poverty. 

Here's the statement from shadow economic secretary to the Treasury Catherine McKinnell:

David Cameron promised to lead the most family friendly government ever. But these figures show his choices have hit families with children hardest of all, while millionaires have been given a huge tax cut.

The progress Labour made in reducing child poverty has ground to a halt under the Tories and independent forecasts say it is set to rise.

This isn’t good enough. The Office for Budget Responsibility should be required to monitor and report on the government’s progress on reducing child poverty. This should include analysing the impact of Budget decisions on the level of child poverty.

George Osborne hasn’t made a single mention of child poverty in his last three Budget speeches. Boosting the role of the OBR to monitor child poverty would make it more difficult for governments and Chancellors to ignore the problem and the impact of their choices.

Labour’s plan to deal with the cost-of-living crisis will tackle child poverty and make work pay as we balance the books in a fairer way. We will expand free childcare, freeze energy bills, increase the minimum wage, incentivise the living wage, scrap the bedroom tax and get more homes built.

Given how crucial the reduction of child poverty is to spreading opportunity, and the coalition's well-noted tendency to manipulate statistics, it's a welcome proposal. But with all the forecasts pointing in the wrong direction for the government, it's unlikely that Osborne will accept this extension of the OBR's remit. Labour has previously sought to turn the Chancellor's creation to its advantage by inviting it to audit its tax and spending commitments: a proposal he rejected. 

In the meantime, the party has carried out a new analysis of the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) statistics, which show that families with children have suffered larger falls in their living standards than those without. A couple with two children aged 5 and 14 are on average £2,132 a year worse off in real terms since 2009-10, while a couple with no children are £1,404 a year worse off. A single person with two children aged 5 and 14 is on average £1,664 a year worse off in real terms since 2009-10, while a single person with no children is £936 a year worse off.

Further analysis found that material deprivation measures of child poverty are on the rise. There are now 300,000 more children living in families that can’t afford to keep their house warm – a total of 1.7m  - 400,000 more living in families that can’t afford to make savings of £10 a month - now a total of 6m - and half a million more living in families that can’t afford to replace broken electrical goods – now a total of 3.6m. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.