Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The child poverty statistics are George Osborne's final legacy

Poverty in the UK is increasingly an in-work phenomenon.

The Child Poverty Action Group has released its latest poverty map: showing exactly where largest numbers of children living in poverty, and the biggest increases in child poverty have been. Child poverty fell steadily under the last Labour government and for the first three years of the coalition but has been rising ever since.

Here are the top ten constituencies with the highest rate of child poverty: Bow and Bethnal Green, Birmingham Ladywood, Poplar and Limehouse, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Birmingham Hall Green, Manchester Central, Bradford West, Bradford East, Oldham West and Royton.  Bethnal Green, Ladywood, Poplar, and Hodge Hill all have poverty rates above the 50 per cent mark while none of the top ten have child poverty rates of  below 45 per cent.

The first thing to note is that the huge amount of in-work poverty. While unemployment is part of the story of poverty in the United Kingdom  – Ladywood has the highest number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in the country – it is a very small part of the story.  A hair under one adult in ten living in Ladywood is unemployed – but more than half of all children living in that constituency live in poverty.

The biggest driver of the increase in child poverty are the cuts to in-work benefits, something that becomes even more stark when you look at the top ten seats with the biggest increase in the child poverty rate: Bethnal Green and Bow, Oldham West and Royton, Bradford West, Poplar and Limehouse, Bradford East, Keighley, Blackburn, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Birmingham Perry Barr and Leicester South.

In Bow and Bethnal Green, which both has the largest number of children living in poverty and the biggest increase in child poverty, unemployment fell by four points but child poverty went up by 11 points. The same picture – of decreasing unemployment and rising poverty – can be found in Bradford East, Blackburn, Keighley and Leicester South. In Leicester South, the claimant count fell by a staggering 17 points but child poverty went up by eight per cent.   

There is another particular characteristic about the top ten seats with the biggest rises in child poverty and indeed 18 of the top 20 seats with the biggest rises that is worth noting: large numbers of children from immigrant backgrounds, particularly those from the Indian sub-continent. What’s happening here is the consequence of the elimination of child benefit after the second child, which has a particular impact on these communities. (Note, this change isn’t even grandfathered in but retrospective: people can’t decide to simply travel back in time and not have these children.) You could call it the final policy legacy of George Osborne.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.