On Friday, I launched the Labour Party’s National Conversation about Child Poverty and Life Chances in my constituency, Wirral West. The scale of the challenge we face nationally was highlighted by a report published only the day before by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Nearly 4m children are currently growing up in poverty in the UK after their families’ housing costs are taken into account. The IFS predicts we could see over a million more children growing up in poverty by 2022.
The aim of Labour’s National Conversation is to get people talking about the impact of child poverty. At the moment, those commenting on the current state of politics tend to focus on those people who feel that their communities have been forgotten and their views not listened to. Yet there seem to be few suggestions of how to move beyond that.
In Birkenhead, one third of children are living in households in poverty. In Wirral as a whole, there are 18,000 children growing up in poverty, including many in my own constituency of Wirral West. Volunteers who provide free school uniforms to children and food parcels for struggling families are meeting a real need, despite some areas of the constituency being very affluent.
This is replicated across the country. In our National Conversation we want to engage with everyone from residents, community activists, representatives from advice agencies to food bank projects, head and deputy head teachers, early years specialists, community health practitioners and politicians. It is very clear there’s a real desire at grassroots level for fresh thinking.
The last Labour government made tackling child poverty a key priority, from the creation of Sure Start centres to increases in social security and employment support targeted at lone parent families.
It paid off – between 1997 and 2010 child poverty fell by 1.1m and the employment rate for single parents increased from 44 per cent to 57 per cent.
Since 2010, progress in reducing child poverty first stalled and then after 2015 has gone into reverse. The government not only abandoned the targets set by the last Labour government to cut child poverty, but abolished the Child Poverty Unit set up to coordinate policy across government.
Ministers repeat as a mantra that work must always pay, yet this government undermined work incentives in Universal Credit by cutting work allowances – the amount that someone can earn before their Universal Credit starts to be reduced.
Theresa May pledged that the government she would lead would put the interests of families struggling to get by before those of a privileged few.
If this government is really committed to doing that, the Chancellor should reverse those cuts to work allowances in his Budget this week. It is unacceptable that children should go hungry and that families should have to rely on food banks in 21st century Britain. Labour is listening. Is the Chancellor?
Margaret Greenwood is the shadow employment minister.