A grim decade. Photo:Getty
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After the election, what now for child poverty?

If the next five years aren't to see child poverty increase yet further, the government must rethink its approach.

Now the final vote has been counted and the last ballot box locked away, the real work of governing begins. When it comes to vulnerable children and their families, the new Government has a mountain to climb.

Under the Child Poverty Act (2010), the main political parties have a duty to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Currently, 3.7 million children live in poverty in the UK. Following years where the amount of children living in hardship went down, the number is now flat-lining & looks set to rise steeply again. In fact, the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that by 2020 more than 32 percent of UK children will be living in poverty.

Poverty has a huge impact on the life chances of children and young people. Starting from the cradle onwards, poorer children can expect to typically lag up to 15 months behind in their vocabulary than their richer peers. At age seven, they perform far behind their classmates in ability tests.

Poorer children attain fewer good GCSEs and are more likely to be unemployed on leaving education. Once unemployed they face permanent ‘wage scarring’, which means they’ll earn less than their peers later in life too.

Barnardo’s works with the families who struggle daily at the coal face of the UK’s stubborn poverty problem. The factors driving hardship are complex and vary from family to family.

The recent recession, which was followed closely by a rise in the cost of living, hit the poorest particularly hard; a young family on minimum wage, for example, saw energy bills increase by up to 11% in one year alone (2013) and childcare costs rise by 77% in a single decade.

Meanwhile young people experienced double the unemployment rate of other workers during the recession, and a much slower recovery in its aftermath.

Beyond the ups and downs of the wider economic climate, however, political decisions have also driven hardship amongst struggling families.

The families we work with tell us they’ve been hit by a proliferation of recent changes to the benefits system. Partially aimed at cutting the UK welfare bill, these changes include tougher benefits ‘sanctions’ (suspension of payments), housing benefit cuts, and a below-inflation ‘freeze’ on income-related benefits

The human impact has often been unintentionally cruel. One mother, who missed a Jobcentre appointment because she was attending a meeting about her child at school, told us she was sanctioned for six weeks. Forced to survive on child benefit, the family turned to a suspected loan shark - turning a £300 loan into a £700 debt.

Worryingly, in their manifesto the Conservatives have committed to cutting £12bn of the welfare bill. It’s unclear exactly where the money will come from, but they have already pledged to restrict housing & out-of-work benefits for young people.

There are some crucial steps the new Government can take to improve the poorest children’s life chances, but they must heed lessons from the previous administration.

Firstly, they should guarantee that welfare cuts will not fall on the most vulnerable. They can start by following official recommendations and undertake a complete review of the financially punishing sanctions system.

Another major factor driving hardship is that, whilst these families’ benefits have been substantially cut, no real alternatives have materialised to help them escape the poverty trap.

In theory the new ‘Universal Credit’ welfare scheme, for example, goes a long way to helping families ‘work their way out of poverty’ as it irons out an anomaly in the current system by allowing claimants to work and claim benefits at the same time. It helps families more with childcare costs – a - major reason many find it difficult to work.

Yet the reality is that due to delays in introducing it ‘on the ground’, most families still aren’t on the scheme. At the same time, the Government has been stealthily cutting the benefit, by freezing it under the rate of inflation.

We would like to see the new Government continue introducing this scheme, but guarantee it will make no further cuts or freezes to working benefits so that when it’s finally rolled out to families it genuinely helps make work pay.

Finally, the Government must take steps to make sure that every child has the same life chances. Starting from the cradle onwards, they can commit in England* to protecting Children’s Centre funding, to increasing support for disadvantaged 3 and 4 year-olds, and assisting poor pupils through schemes like the Pupil Premium and Free School Meals. Marginalised school-leavers too need intensive personalised support and training to help them succeed in the work place.

Of course, other areas besides poverty need urgent ongoing attention. Sexual exploitation poses a huge threat to the wellbeing of UK children; recent revelations of the scale and nature of this vile form of abuse in Rotherham , Oxford and elsewhere highlights the need for Government action to ensure that in England* children are educated about healthy relationships. This has not been committed to in their manifesto either.

The new Government needs to wake up to the on-going issues that affect children around the UK, including poverty, taking action with proposals that protect and not punish the poorest. It is imperative that the UK looks after families who fall into crisis, by maintaining a benefits system that will nurture the children most in need of it.

Javed Khan is CEO of Barnardo's. He tweets at @JavedKhanCEO.

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We still have time to change our minds on Brexit

The British people will soon find they have been misled. 

On the radio on 29 March 2017, another "independence day" for rejoicing Brexiteers, former SNP leader Alex Salmond and former Ukip leader Nigel Farage battled hard over the ramifications of Brexit. Here are two people who could be responsible for the break-up of the United Kingdom. Farage said it was a day we were getting our country back.

Yet let alone getting our country back, we could be losing our country. And what is so frustrating is that not only have we always had our country by being part of the European Union, but we have had the best of both worlds.

It is Philip Hammond who said: “We cannot cherry pick, we cannot have our cake and eat it too”. The irony is that we have had our cake and eaten it, too.

We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro and we make the laws that affect our daily lives in Westminster – not in Europe – be it our taxes, be it our planning laws, be it business rates, be it tax credits, be it benefits or welfare, be it healthcare. We measure our roads in miles because we choose to and we pour our beer in pints because we choose to. We have not been part of any move towards further integration and an EU super-state, let alone the EU army.

Since the formation of the EU, Britain has had the highest cumulative GDP growth of any country in the EU – 62 per cent, compared with Germany at 35 per cent. We have done well out of being part of the EU. What we have embarked on in the form of Brexit is utter folly.

The triggering of Article 50 now is a self-imposed deadline by the Prime Minister for purely political reasons. She wants to fix the two-year process to end by March 2019 well in time to go into the election in 2020, with the negotiations completed.

There is nothing more or less to this timing. People need to wake up to this. Why else would she trigger Article 50 before the French and German elections, when we know Europe’s attention will be elsewhere?

We are going to waste six months of those two years, all because Prime Minister Theresa May hopes the negotiations are complete before her term comes to an end. I can guarantee that the British people will soon become aware of this plot. The Emperor has no clothes.

Reading through the letter that has been delivered to the EU and listening to the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament today amounted to reading and listening to pure platitudes and, quite frankly, hot air. It recalls the meaningless phrase, "Brexit means Brexit".

What the letter and the statement very clearly outlined is how complex the negotiations are going to be over the next two years. In fact, they admit that it is unlikely that they are going to be able to conclude negotiations within the two-year period set aside.

That is not the only way in which the British people have been misled. The Conservative party manifesto clearly stated that staying in the single market was a priority. Now the Prime Minister has very clearly stated in her Lancaster House speech, and in Parliament on 29 March that we are not going to be staying in the single market.

Had the British people been told this by the Leave campaign, I can guarantee many people would not have voted to leave.

Had British businesses been consulted, British businesses unanimously – small, medium and large – would have said they appreciate and benefit from the single market, the free movement of goods and services, the movement of people, the three million people from the EU that work in the UK, who we need. We have an unemployment rate of under 5 per cent – what would we do without these 3m people?

Furthermore, this country is one of the leaders in the world in financial services, which benefits from being able to operate freely in the European Union and our businesses benefit from that as a result. We benefit from exporting, tariff-free, to every EU country. That is now in jeopardy as well.

The Prime Minister’s letter to the EU talks with bravado about our demands for a fair negotiation, when we in Britain are in the very weakest position to negotiate. We are just one country up against 27 countries, the European Commission and the European Council and the European Parliament. India, the US and the rest of the world do not want us to leave the European Union.

The Prime Minister’s letter of notice already talks of transitional deals beyond the two years. No country, no business and no economy likes uncertainty for such a prolonged period. This letter not just prolongs but accentuates the uncertainty that the UK is going to face in the coming years.

Britain is one of the three largest recipients of inward investment in the world and our economy depends on inward investment. Since the referendum, the pound has fallen 20 per cent. That is a clear signal from the world, saying, "We do not like this uncertainty and we do not like Brexit."

Though the Prime Minister said there is it no turning back, if we come to our senses we will not leave the EU. Article 50 is revocable. At any time from today we can decide we want to stay on.

That is for the benefit of the British economy, for keeping the United Kingdom "United", and for Europe as a whole – let alone the global economy.

Lord Bilimoria is the founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and the founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.