1.6 million UK children growing up in severe poverty
Today Save the Children publishes its latest research into the extent of severe child poverty in the UK, figures we publish every year. Last year attention focussed on Labour’s boom years which saw the number of children living in the most extreme poverty actually rising. This year we log a small drop in the numbers: but essentially it’s a continuing story of an unacceptably high number of our children living in deep deprivation. Moreover, with increasing job losses in the poorest parts of the country and welfare cuts to come, deep poverty levels are likely to rise sharply from 2012.
We’re calling on Chancellor George Osborne to show that the coalition government really does want to end this scar on our society by announcing an emergency action plan to tackle the worst child deprivation in his budget next month.
Save the Children’s measure of severe child poverty identifies the number of children living in households earning less than 50% of middle incomes, and where both children and adults are going without basic material goods.
Families can’t pay the basic bills
We’re talking about families who simply don’t have enough to pay the basic bills: a single mum with one child trying to survive on £7,000 a year or a family of four on just £12,500. Parents are going without meals and having to make difficult choices about whether to keep the heating on in order to ensure their children continue to have enough to eat. Birthday parties or having friends over for dinner — key experiences for social development — are consequently out of the question.
Parents are likely to be in hoc to high interest money lenders. The emotional stresses and strains on these families are huge. 1.6 million children are growing up with so little, experiencing a childhood so far behind their middle income peers, that any amount of early intervention and extra education spending that might in future be targeted at them would need to work incredibly hard to give them any sort of chance at life.
We’ve heard a lot from politicians about the causes of poverty.
The real cause of deep poverty is clear: the majority of children in severe poverty are living in homes where no adult works. With multiple applicants for vacancies in the poorest parts of the country, it is a lack of jobs that are secure and pay enough to raise a family that is the cause of severe child poverty.
Finding a solution to this problem is not beyond the wit of today’s politicians. The goal has to be an economy where job opportunities are distributed more evenly across the country, where wages are high enough to keep a family above the breadline, and where the state does all it can to incentivise work and support families who are struggling the most.
That means ensuring investment and business growth are channelled into the parts of the country that are suffering the worst levels of unemployment. It means ensuring that the minimum wage rises each year by more than token amounts. The government could lead the nation’s employers by ensuring all its employees are paid at least the living wage. It could bring direct help to families struggling to keep their homes warm by extending its proposed energy bills discount to low income families. Stop severe child poverty – take action now
And it could reverse some of the cost cutting measures announced by the Chancellor last Autumn that ran so counter to the government’s welcome mission to make work pay more than benefits. Cutting support for childcare and in work benefits for the poorest families in work will only lead to fewer families able to take and keep work, and so yet more children living in severe poverty.
If George Osborne announced an emergency package with these measures, with targets for the reduction of severe child poverty, he would simultaneously stop the loss of yet another generation of children’s chances and send a clear signal that this government is committed to creating a society that puts the needs of its poorest children first.