Child Poverty Should Not Be Rising
Annual statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that the number of children across the UK in poverty remains stubbornly high, with our capital’s children more likely to be in poverty than in any other nation or region of the UK.
The number of children living in poverty in London is 700,000 and the large majority of those will live in working families (70%).
Of particular concern is the impact on lone parent families, families with pre-school age children and BAME families – who all see rates of poverty well above the national average.
These figures came just a day after we saw ONS statistics of life expectancy falling, especially for low-income women.
What we are seeing now is the toll that long term austerity is taking.
It is not right that this is the first generation with a decreasing life expectancy.
It is not right that child poverty is rising.
It is not right that from this month the Government has found the money for the personal allowance of income tax to rise to £12,500/year when we know that the gains of this rise will be mostly felt by richer households. Yet benefits have been frozen in real terms for years, making families try and survive on less and less while costs rise.
We need to redesign the economy so that it frees people from poverty, not locks them into it.
For employment to offer a route out of poverty, it must provide families with a stable and secure income that gives them enough to live on; however, when we recently surveyed our member organisations across the capital 94% of survey respondents did not believe families had access to well paid, secure jobs in their local area.
Employment support that helps working parents into quality, secure, well-paid jobs is vital. Advice and training provided by public services, such as Jobcentre Plus, should take into account each individual - their needs and circumstances. However, only 4% of survey respondents felt families received appropriate, personalised employment support at their local Jobcentre Plus. Often, job opportunities are entry-level, low paid positions in retail, hospitality or caring sectors - typically sectors with the highest amount of insecurity, low pay and poor progression routes.
Weak wage growth, insecure work combined with rising living costs and benefit cuts are hurting families – this comes at a cost to these families and also to society at large.
In addition to this, the public services and welfare support that we all rely on - and hopefully will continue to be there to support us - are struggling.
At 4in10 London’s child poverty network we have seen the escalation of new foodbanks, baby banks and charities setting up across the capital to provide basics like sanitary products to young girls who would miss school without them – these are symptoms of a desperate situation, they are not solutions in themselves.
Our member organisations tell us they fear for the families they support with the rollout of Universal Credit. 90% of professionals responding to our survey had seen an increasing number of families struggling to make ends meet each month. And experts predict that without action child poverty is going to continue escalating over the coming years.
It’s clear we are not doing enough to protect our families from getting swept away in the tide of poverty. We should structure our society so that work pays people enough live on and raise a family on, and in difficult or unexpected circumstances provides a safety net that helps families back onto their feet, and not push them further into crisis.
There is something that everyone can do to support this. We’re calling on the UK Government to end the benefit freeze, stop Universal Credit pulling people into debt and work to improve wages.
Local Authorities can also play their part for instance by increasing Local Welfare Assistance they provide.
We are coming together as a sector to push for this in London’s Challenge Poverty Week –in October we will encourage positive debate and discussion about poverty, the solutions we know exist and seek new ones that challenge the existence of poverty in the capital. Please join us.
I don’t want the child poverty figures to be so bleak in years to come.
By Laura Payne, Project Manager, 4in10 London Child Poverty Network