We may be one of the richest nations on earth but across the country there is a surprisingly high number of child poverty black spots. The child poverty map of the UK published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty reveals the shocking depth and breadth of child poverty that still exists across the country. In England alone, nearly a third of local authorities have at least one in four children living in poverty; where parents have to choose between eating and heating for the family because they are so hard up.
The disparities across the country are vast. Poverty levels in constituencies such as Manchester Central and Poplar and Limehouse reach over 40 per cent; in contrast, the poverty rate in the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister's constituencies is under 10 per cent.
There's nothing inevitable about high levels of child poverty. As UNICEF showed last year, the UK comes 22nd out of 35 of the wealthiest industrialized countries in terms of its child poverty rates. And this is despite several years of sustained progress in reducing the number of children growing up poor. The Government has committed to the target set out in the Child Poverty Act 2010 to end child poverty in the UK by 2020. But now the chances of sustaining any progress towards achieving this target are very bleak.
The IFS predict that an additional 800,000 children will be in poverty by 2020; the Government's own estimates show that the Welfare Uprating Bill alone will push another 200,000 children below the poverty line. There's an urgent need for the government to set out a strategy to show how it will move towards a consistent fall in the number of children living in poverty, rather than the predicted increases.
But the report published this week also shows that there's much that local authorities can do to help prevent poverty in their area. Although councils are dealing with significant cuts to local budgets, they are increasingly gaining control over local spending on social security; End Child Poverty is calling on them to consider the needs of families with children when they make decisions about local discretionary spending.
From April, councils have responsibility for deciding who will be eligible for help with paying council tax, who receives emergency loans and grants, and who gets additional support to deal with the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. These decisions will have a significant impact on the lives of children and families on the edge of or below the poverty line.
Local authorities are also gaining responsibility for health and wellbeing in their area, with the establishment of new local health and wellbeing boards. These bodies need to recognize that poverty is a key driver of children's health. Their plans and needs analysis must link with the duties under the Child Poverty Act to publish a child poverty strategy. Local authorities must also ensure there is a holistic approach by integrating public health and anti poverty work with their overall approach to implementing welfare reform.
Ultimately child poverty will only be tackled by all levels of Government working together. The report today shows just how urgent the need is for that to happen.