Breadline Kids – families in dire need of a real Child Poverty Strategy

By 2020 there will be 3.5 million children in poverty in the UK. We need a credible child poverty plan to do something about it, says Helen Barnard.

By 2020 there will be 3.5 million children in poverty in the UK. We need a credible plan to do something about it, says Helen Barnard.

One of the big lessons drawn from last month’s elections was that politicians had become disconnected from the experience of ‘real people’. Watching Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last night gave me the same feeling – how far removed the families were from Parliamentary debates over welfare, benefits and austerity.

The three families featured in Breadline Kids illustrated four of the underlying drivers of poverty in the UK today.

Rising living costs: Oxfam reports that food prices have gone up by 30.5 per cent – two and a half times the rate of increase in the National Minimum Wage. Annual inflation is currently 2.8 per cent. Most benefits will only go up by 1 per cent this year.

Unemployment: recent employment figures have been positive but there are still many people looking for work who cannot find it. Across the UK as a whole there are around six claimants for every vacancy. In many areas there are more than ten.

A labour market in which enormous numbers of people are stuck in jobs that don’t take them out poverty and don’t lead to work that will: low pay is part of the problem, with five million people paid under the Living Wage. But it is not the whole story. Families dependent on part-time work and on short-term, unstable jobs are particularly vulnerable to poverty. The UK labour market contains far too many of this kind of job, with employers who do not use the skills their employees have and a lack of career ladders and training to enable those at the bottom to move up.

An increasingly thin and inconsistent safety net: Walking the Breadline (yesterday’s report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty) cites Trussell Trust figures showing that problems in the welfare and benefits system are the most common reason for referrals to food banks. Changes to crisis loan eligibility rules, delays in payments, Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions and sickness benefit reassessments have all led to hardship.

By 2020 there will be 3.5 million poor children in the UK. Breadline Kids shows what life is like for those children.

Yesterday, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission described the Government’s recent Draft Child Poverty Strategy as a missed opportunity. They said the goal of ending child poverty is doomed to failure unless a credible plan is developed.

We have called for the strategy to include action on the Living Wage, reducing the cost of essentials, increasing the quality and affordability of childcare and improved work incentives under Universal Credit. For the sake of all the Caras, Rosies, Beckys, Niomis and Dreys, let’s hope someone listens this time.