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.

Photo: Getty
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Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?

You can see the shape of the deal that the right would accept. 

In an early morning address aimed half reassuring the markets and half at salvaging his own legacy, George Osborne set out the government’s stall.

The difficulty was that the two halves were hard to reconcile. Talk of “fixing the roof” and getting Britain’s finances in control, an established part of Treasury setpieces under Osborne, are usually merely wrong. With the prospect of further downgrades in Britain’s credit rating and thus its ability to borrow cheaply, the £1.6 trillion that Britain still owes and the country’s deficit in day-to-day spending, they acquired a fresh layer of black humour. It made for uneasy listening.

But more importantly, it offered further signs of what post-Brexit deal the Conservatives will attempt to strike. Boris Johnson, the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, set out the deal he wants in his Telegraph column: British access to the single market, free movement of British workers within the European Union but border control for workers from the EU within Britain.

There is no chance of that deal – in fact, reading Johnson’s Telegraph column called to mind the exasperated response that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal and a supporter of a Remain vote, gave upon hearing that one of his players wanted to move to Real Madrid: “It's like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn't want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”

But Osborne, who has yet to rule out a bid for the top job and confirmed his intention to serve in the post-Cameron government, hinted at the deal that seems most likely – or, at least, the most optimistic: one that keeps Britain in the single market and therefore protects Britain’s financial services and manufacturing sectors.

For the Conservatives, you can see how such a deal might not prove electorally disastrous – it would allow them to maintain the idea with its own voters that they had voted for greater “sovereignty” while maintaining their easy continental holidays, au pairs and access to the Erasmus scheme.  They might be able to secure a few votes from relieved supporters of Remain who backed the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the last election – but, in any case, you can see how a deal of that kind would be sellable to their coalition of the vote. For Johnson, further disillusionment and anger among the voters of Sunderland, Hull and so on are a price that a Tory government can happily pay – and indeed, has, during both of the Conservatives’ recent long stays in government from 1951 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1997.

It feels unlikely that it will be a price that those Labour voters who backed a Leave vote – or the ethnic and social minorities that may take the blame – can happily pay.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.