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The government must not give up on eliminating child poverty

Theresa May's actions to date do not match her early rhetoric.

The last Labour government led a radical and comprehensive effort across government and beyond to abolish child poverty. We should not forget that through a co-ordinated and focused approach, one million children were lifted out of poverty.

We have learned this week that the Conservative government are taking a different approach. Instead of seeking to abolish child poverty, they have abolished the Child Poverty Unit. That is a deeply concerning admission because child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures.

The government should be doing everything possible to ensure that no child in Britain grows up in poverty. When the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street, she promised to fight the burning injustice of being born poor and to lead a government that worked for everyone. Having a country that works for everyone requires government to both help those who fall behind and stop people being disadvantaged from the outset. The Tories are falling well short on both counts.

All the evidence shows that children living in poverty face too many obstacles to reaching their potential. They are more likely to fall behind in school, less likely to secure a stable job, and more likely to suffer from ill health. In my Barnsley constituency, more than one in four children grow up in poverty.  It is a pattern repeated in classrooms across the country, where on average nine children in a classroom of thirty experience its effects.

Across the UK, that adds up to four million children. Looking ahead, the Institute for Fiscal Studies projects the biggest increase in relative child poverty in a generation. They predict the number of children growing up in poverty will grow by 50 per cent by 2020. Simply put, the present situation is unacceptable and, without action, what will follow in the years ahead is worse still.

So the government has a choice to make. With the power to stop that increase happening, their decision will shape what kind of country we live in. Yet what we have recently learned of the government’s policies in response to my questions in parliament are deeply concerning. Not only has the once influential Child Poverty Unit been closed, but we learn that eliminating child poverty is no longer the stated goal of policy.

Civil service staff support for the government’s Social Mobility Commission will be limited to a maximum of seven staff, which is fewer than the number of commissioners. Furthermore, the long-delayed Life Chances strategy, which was to be the flagship approach, has been abandoned.

The government now has no unit, no target and no intention of eliminating child poverty. That is not a record which matches the Prime Minister’s rhetoric. The government’s forthcoming social mobility green paper cannot be adequate without addressing child poverty. When two in three children in poverty grow up in a household where someone works, tackling in-work poverty is critical to its success.

It is because work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty that we must take a far wider approach. That should include proposals to address insecurity at work and understand the rise of new forms of employment. Delivering a real living wage for more workers is an important step alongside providing opportunities for progression for those on lower incomes.

Every family understands the costs of childcare. For low income families in particular, childcare provision must be flexible and available when and where parents need it. Getting that right would make a big difference, because when childcare costs are accounted for, an additional 130,000 children are pushed into poverty.

While children may be 20 per cent of the population, they are 100 per cent of the future. So our approach must focus on achieving a good and nurturing childhood, as well as what happens next.
I hope the government now take the opportunity to change course because poverty wrecks childhoods and limits futures.

We serve in politics to change lives. So I will put every effort into rebuilding a cross-party consensus on child poverty. To that end, I will introduce a bill into Parliament which seeks to set a new and binding target to reduce child poverty.

That is how we can build a country that really works for everyone. The Prime Minister has pledged that will be the defining mission for her government. It begins by doing right by the next generation.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.

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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.