THE BLOG

Face the Problem of Child Poverty, Don't Mask It

25/06/2015 15:10 BST | Updated 25/06/2016 10:59 BST

Today, the Government's own figures reveal that 200,000 more children in the UK are living in severe poverty and more children are living in in-work poverty. It is clear that the current approach to improving these children's lives and to ending child poverty by the end of the decade is not working.

The shameful truth is that the overall number of children in poverty has remained static at 3.7million after housing costs. These figures are much more than a cold statistic. Each is a child growing up in families where parents have to make the almost unthinkable decision such as between heating their home or providing a hot meal. Families struggling to afford the cost of school uniform, or trying to hide the depression they feel as a consequence of being in problem debt.

Worryingly, given the Government's plans to cut welfare by £12billion, the forecast for these families is not bright. Even without these cuts, it is estimated that a third of children in the UK will be living in poverty by 2020 if constructive action is not taken.

Debating how to measure child poverty will do nothing to help these children. Instead, it will only serve to move the goal posts and mask the scale and reality of child poverty.

While there are many factors that contribute to families falling into, and becoming trapped, in poverty, income must remain the central point on which the measure is based. Children need basic essentials like food, shelter and clothing. But they also need resources that allow them to be socially included, to have a standard of living like their peers and to have every opportunity to learn, grow and develop.

In his speech in Runcorn on Monday (22 June), the Prime Minister stated that he wants to move the UK from being a "low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society". While the suggestion that companies should pay their staff more in this time of economic growth and that inflation will be kept low are welcome, the idea that removing child tax credits will help to create better paying jobs in misleading. There would need to be a significant increase in the minimum wage to counterbalance the reduction in tax credits.

Any increase in the tax threshold would also need to be linked to a subsequent rise in housing benefit so that families could get the full benefit of this policy.

Most children in poverty in the UK are living in families that are in low-paid work. Today's figures show that, carrying on the steady rise over the last five years, this has now risen to 62%. Cuts to welfare will punish families that are already struggling to provide for their children and push them even deeper into poverty.

Keeping a realistic and accurate way of measuring child poverty based on income is critical to being able to tackle this problem. This must be supplemented by a robust response to tackling the key causes of poverty: substandard housing, lack of access to quality healthcare and education, and long term increases living costs. But fundamentally, poverty is about income, this really must not be lost sight of.

Redefining the current measures will not help to end child poverty. But taking steps to address the factors that contribute to poverty can help to make sure that every child is able to fulfil their true potential. Any income measure makes sure we can hold the Government to account and not to shirk its responsibility to end child poverty once and for all.

The Government must take effective steps to reduce the number of families living on low incomes, including by making sure that work always pays. One important step is to give children's benefits and tax credits the same 'triple lock' protection that is provided for the basic state pension. This guarantee would mean that these key supports would at least rise in line with inflation, significantly helping to reduce child poverty.