Child poverty is a disgrace in a rich country

In 2010, Parliament set a target for the government to eradicate child poverty by 2020 in the Child Poverty Act. The big three parties at the time, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour all agreed that this was a worthwhile target and strived to achieve it. However since then, we have seen a majority Conservative government attempt to abolish this target, stopped only by the House of Lords, as well as seen child poverty trend upwards, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasting that it will reach over 5 million children, or 37%, by 2021-22. The government set out a basic strategy to help eradicate child poverty, yet The Campaign to End Child Poverty believes this will fall far short of even slowing the trend of increasing child poverty. All Liberal Democrats should agree that no child should be living in poverty. All should agree that every child should get the start in life that they deserve. All should agree that we need a new strategy to combat child poverty, looking back to our roots in Lloyd George to declare war on poverty.

The heart of the problem is a lack of money. More than 60% of poor children live in households with at least one adult in work, so work is perhaps not the silver bullet that many would proclaim it to be. The government has attempted to cut the personal allowance in order to put more money into the pocket of poor families, but the higher the personal allowance goes, the less effect it has on those that really need the extra money.

The Liberal Democrats stood on the most progressive platform in terms of tax and welfare at the last election. We are not making false overtures while wanting to spend billions on middle class graduates. Our words are backed by our policy that will give real benefits for many in the UK. We must create a strong, expert-backed strategy to combat child poverty including boosting welfare for the least well off and reforming its delivery so that it does not discentivise work, promoting very early age development to ensure that poor children are not left behind before they even start primary school, ensuring every family has a secure, good quality home and ensuring they have quality meals so they can get the best out of our education system. Each of the issues that these policies address are strongly correlated with future poverty for those who suffer them. Spending early and well can help save the country money in the future, helping nurture those who would have been left behind to be the best that they can be.

I will be contacting various stakeholders to get their opinions on this so that we can submit a strong, evidence-backed motion to Brighton conference. We need a strong policy to end child poverty and I urge you all to get in touch if you want to help. I can be found on Twitter or on Facebook.

* Oliver Craven is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

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  • But when are leading Liberal-Democrats going to start shouting this from the rooftops?

  • Oliver, It’s to your credit that you recognise this problem. I wish Lib Dem M.P.’s had recognised it between 2010-15 when they supported austerity and the welfare changes. The introduction of school meals was a minor compensation.

    The number of children in poverty rose by 300,000 from 3.6 million in 2010-12 to 3.9 million in 2013-15. The number of children receiving food from Trussell Trust food banks increased from 46,000 in 2011/12 to 397,000 in 2014/15.

    Analysis published on Friday by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) – University of Sheffield – looked at the type of families using food banks in
    Trussell Trust’s network.

    It highlighted that families with dependent children are more likely than other family types to use foodbanks. 70% of families at foodbanks have dependent children, compared to just 42% in the general UK population. Single parent households are particularly at risk of needing a foodbank – they are almost twice as prevalent among households at foodbanks compared to the general population.

    Here’s the link : Family hunger in times of austerity – Sheffield Political Economy ……/SPERI-Brief-32-Family-hunger-in-times-of-austerity.pdf

    Trussell Trust advocate

    1. Unfreeze/uprate in line with inflation rates of child benefits, and the Child Element in Universal Credit and for Child Tax Credits under the legacy benefits system.

    2. Suspend the benefit cap for parents of children aged 0-2.

    3. Ensuring work pays for parents under Universal Credit. The work allowance for parents should be increased to its pre-April 2016 level to allow families to keep more of their earnings before Universal Credit payments are reduced.

    4. Single parents with pre-school children or more than 2 children should not be subject to job-searching requirements or sanctions.

    5. Ensure all families in need of free school meals are able to access them. The Department for Education has recently decided to place a threshold of £7,400 per household for eligibility to free school meals on Universal Credit. A higher threshold, (it’s £14,000 in Northern Ireland) could help low income families.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 2nd Apr '18 - 12:19pm

    Agree with David Raw, also can I suggest that findings of various Poverty Truth Commissions be looked at. They are very much based on the voices of those in poverty themselves.
    the Stockton PTC is about to look at 3 issues in more depth, one of which is around the “school day”. remind me to report back.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd Apr '18 - 12:28pm

    Oliver, you are quite right that “child poverty is a disgrace in a rich country”.
    But I hope you will not mind me saying that I feel that your article does not go far enough.
    It is just as unacceptable that any adult should be living in poverty in a rich country.

  • Neil Sandison 2nd Apr '18 - 12:34pm

    Good article by Oliver Craven .I would not agree with Tim 13 Working Family Tax Credit was an administrative nightmare frequently overpaid or under claimed .punitively recovered by HMRC leaving many households massively in debt both in terms of over payments of tax credits and incurring housing benefit and council tax recovery from rebates which led to many households being threatened with eviction by their social landlords. i Would scrap the bedroom tax which was a modern form of the poll tax and has led to many families having to pay additional rent for the alleged spare rooms and which our MPs based on the evidence withdrew their support for prior to the 2015 election .I would review the level of the cap for housing benefit purposes as well as support the recommendations of the Trussell Trust identified by David Raw .

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Apr '18 - 3:13pm

    Oliver, it’s good that you raise again the vital questions already much debated on LDV, especially in articles from Michael BG which I will leave him to remind of the links to them. However, I have one plea. Don’t just focus on a policy motion for the next Federal Conference. This is too significant a year for us and for the country to be waiting till September. Let us demand and campaign NOW for measures to alleviate child poverty, and become known for the radical measures we demand for this, and for the wider reduction of poverty and gross inequality in this country.

  • Oliver, did you see my recent LDV article? –
    In it I set out an example of how Universal Credit works and made two simple suggestions:
    increasing Child Benefit by £1 per child and :
    increasing Universal Credit to £124 per adult and making it £248 for two adults.

    This would mean that a couple with two children would have a tiny amount more per week that the Joseph Rowntree Trust state they needed to live above the poverty line in 2015. The same couple when one of them works a 37 hours week earning even the pre-1st April National Living Wage would have £131.38 per week more than the JRT poverty level. I think my suggestions are a good start and I hope to get my local party to submit a motion on poverty for next conference. I would like to work with you. Please contact me on the members forum user name Michael (I don’t have a Twitter or a Facebook account).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Apr '18 - 4:32pm

    Excellent Oliver!

    Agree with the article and comments too.

    A challenge to Oliver, before we engage, how radical are you on this? Go for it, keen to know a few radical ideas you would really consider.

    You should put your role in Liberal Reform in your bio, that group deserves a better reputation, rather than the stale, orangebook criticism and Cleggie jibes. Isee really strong Liberals there, Democrats also!

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Apr '18 - 6:54pm

    If children are not on a healthy diet they won’t have good teeth and bones. Is the food from Food Banks a healthy diet! No fresh vegetables or fruit. It could start with a way forward with School Lunches or Breakfast Clubs. Expanding what there is all ready in place. There was once free school milk and fruit juice, the subject of hungry children is a disgrace. How awful that a child is not fed. I think this is something that deserves urgent resolve. What ever is going wrong, no excuses.

  • The fact that the minimum wage isn’t truly a living wage and needs to be topped with any kind of benefits represents a subsidy by tax payers to low paying employers.

    The fact that anyone, including some in employment, need to rely on charity in the form of food banks to avoid starvation is an absolute disgrace as well as an unforgivable blight on the future of affected children.

    We really need to find a way of making universal basic income or something similar work.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Apr '18 - 7:43pm

    I am delighted at the idea that Oliver Craven and Michael BG could work together to produce a motion on dealing with poverty for Conference. I hope Oliver will take up Michael’s suggestion, and I congratulate Michael on not merely giving Oliver the reference to his own excellent article, but generously suggesting working together rather than competing.
    Oliver, I agree that democracy requires that the party conference has to decide on party policy, and I thoroughly endorse the Democrat part of our name. But our party Leader is entitled to give the party a lead on policy (it could be modified at the next conference), and when the need is urgent as it is now I think he or she should do so. The need IS urgent. The country needs us, and needs us to fight against poverty in this country now. Vince could shape the focus we should take, and we know his stance is also against poverty and inequality. Lib Dem councillors and candidates in next month’s elections could also do with a helping hand of useful national publicity.

  • @ Helen Dudden “Is the food from Food Banks a healthy diet ?” As Chair of a Food Bank I can assure you we try to make it so, Helen. This is from the Trussell Trust website :-

    “We have worked with nutritionists to develop a food parcel that contains sufficient nutrition for adults and children, for at least three days of healthy, balanced meals for individuals and families.

    A typical food parcel includes: Cereal Soup Pasta Rice Pasta sauce Lentils, beans and pulses Tinned meat Tinned vegetables Tea/coffee Tinned fruit Biscuits UHT milk
    Fruit juice. Many food banks also provide essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products, helping people in crisis to maintain dignity. ”

    Why don’t you volunteer to help in your nearest Food Bank, Helen ? That would be a useful way of answering your questions.

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Apr '18 - 8:01am

    I would, but I never can never agree to the way Food Banks are used. Last week, I donated quite a few women’s personal items, as that is another subject.
    Do you cater for diabetics and other form of food intolerence?
    I’m also a vegetarian and Kosher.
    I don’t like the idea of asking to fed, in a demeaning fashion.
    I applaud your compassionate and determined efforts to feed hungry people. But we need a solution to give hungry children the ability to learn. I can see the necessity for school uniform being handed down, as teaching staff have commented this weekend. Maybe, asking for help from other parent’s with outgrown uniforms.

  • Martin Walker 3rd Apr '18 - 8:12am

    Good for you – its fundamental to who we are, fundamental to rebuilding our appeal, and fundamental to the false promise of the Labour Party. Although I appreciate that our manifesto was the most redistributive on offer in 2017 (though who knew about it?), there was far too little in our manifesto last year about the working poor in particular.

  • suzanne Fletcher 3rd Apr '18 - 10:35am

    is anyone else involved with a Poverty Truth Commission in their area ?

  • Helen – yes to both questions – and most of our clients are recommended as emergencies by the CAB, homeless charities, social services and criminal justice. Many come because of the long waiting times and delays caused by universal credit voted for by Lib Dem MPs in the Coalition.

  • “Child poverty is a disgrace… ”

    Absolutely agree.

    “…in a rich country.”

    That’s what everyone says but we no longer a rich country – we just haven’t updated our thinking to the new reality. Consider some recent history.

    Oil bonanza – mainly over.
    Privatisation windfalls – mainly over.
    Large UK companies – mainly sold off to overseas buyers.
    London properties – selling to overseas buyers.

    Most of the proceeds have been spent or have disappeared to various tax havens.

    The fact is that the UK has been living beyond its means for years and, as the saleable assets run out, the debt to foreigners mounts. Far from fixing the undoubted problems Thatcher inherited in 1979, she and her successors have just been more shameless in the selling than earlier generations would have tolerated.

    I think a lot of people know this in their bones, but everything still looks fine on Marylebone High Street or one of the other remaining oases of comfortable wealth. Earth to Westminster…

    Bankruptcy for a state that can print its own currency looks very different to that for an individual or company that can’t print money.

  • Gordon,

    could this be anything to do with the recent decision of he parliamentary catering authorities to sell off the traditional silver-plated cutlery used in Commons dining rooms and replace it with cheap stainless steel from Vietnam (not Shefield). An echo of Harold Macmillan’s jibe that Mrs Thatcher’s privitisation policy was akin to selling-off the family silver.

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