We must restore the value of children's benefits. Photo: Getty
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The minimum cost of raising a child to adulthood: £83,000

New research by Child Poverty Action Group shows that the cost of raising a child threatens to tip an increasing number of families into poverty.

Children cost. A lot. New research published today shows that raising a child from birth to 18 requires a minimum of £83,155 for a couple, and £96,905 for a lone parent family. (In case you are wondering, it costs a lone parent more than a couple to bring up a child because there is only one adult to make offsetting savings from their own living expenses).

There’s a lot going on behind this eye-watering figure. Part of the story is the well-known fact that costs are rising, and rising fast. The price of food – a quarter of the basic budget required for a child – has risen at 25 per cent in the last six years; housing continues to consume a growing share of a family’s budget; and the price of childcare – which can amount up to 45 per cent of the total cost of a child if both parents work full-time - continues to increase apace.

The other side of the story is equally well rehearsed. Family incomes remain under pressure as earnings flat-line and support from the state is cut back year on year. Unsurprisingly, the gap between the amount needed to raise a family and incomes is widening: a couple with both parents working full-time at national minimum wage is now 18 per cent shy of the income required to support two children at a minimum level. For an out-of-work couple, the shortfall is even more alarming: they lack 43 per cent of the necessary income to bring their children up adequately.

All this goes to the heart of why families with children have a higher risk of poverty than those without: children bring additional costs to a family while at the same time constraining parents’ earning power. Recently released figures show that 27 per cent of children live in poverty in the UK today, and this figure is set to rise. Yet the logical link between children’s costs and child poverty appears to have broken down in policy makers’ minds of late.

Rather than supporting families, child benefit will have been cut by almost 15 per cent in real terms over the course of this parliament, and the value of child tax credit has been set on a steady downward track too. While the government has announced a number of policies that help parents with costs at source – the extension of free school meals, for example, or additional nursery provision for very young children – the simple truth is these interventions do not come close to compensating families for the losses they have experienced as a result of austerity.

It’s clear there could be worse to come. It wasn’t that long ago that Ian Duncan Smith flew a kite proposing state support for families be capped at only two children to ensure claimants “cut their cloth in accordance with what capabilities and finances they have”. The idea hasn’t gone away: it emerged in a different guise only yesterday when a leading think-tank proposed that child benefit be tapered away with each additional child, and the over cap on benefits reduced to penurious levels.

By (falsely) pitting the ‘hard-working’ family against the ‘welfare-dependent’ in debates, the government has often tried to suggest a link between benefit receipt and irresponsibility with respect to family size that simply doesn’t exist. Is what we see creeping back into the political debate the age-old argument that poor people should not have children until they can afford them? When two parents working full time cannot net enough to cover the cost of a child, this could be a long wait...

Children are not a private luxury – they are a delight in themselves and an asset to the nation. Retreating from policies that help parents with the cost of children is a sure-fire way to degrade this asset by driving up child poverty. But the reverse is also true. If we want to put the UK back on the right trajectory with respect to child poverty – and polls suggest that many want just this – restoring the value of children’s benefits, and establishing a mechanism to maintain that value over time, has must be an essential part of the strategy.  

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

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

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era