Proud of Labour's record on tackling child poverty
Posted by Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, at 10:01, Fri 15 June 2012:
This week, figures were announced showing more than 1 million children were lifted above the official poverty by the last Labour government. That’s a significant achievement, and I’m very proud of it.
I know many people find it hard to believe poverty really exists in a country as rich as the UK. And it’s true it’s not the same being poor in Manchester as it is in some of the poorest countries of the world.
But too many children in this country aren’t able to make the most of their childhood simply because their parents don’t have enough money to buy the things they need – to pay the bills, ensure their children can have new school uniforms and participate in school activities and trips, or eat a healthy diet.
That’s not because their parents are lazy or feckless. The majority of children who grow up below the poverty line are actually in working families. But low wages and high costs for housing and childcare, as well as rising food and energy bills, mean too many families are really struggling.
Labour took action to address this. We increased child benefit, and introduced tax credits for working parents and extra help with the costs of raising children, and we got more people, especially lone parents, into work.
But that’s not all we did. We invested in Sure Start, improved teaching in schools and introduced the education maintenance allowance to help poorer children stay on at school. We created thousands of new childcare places. We introduced the national minimum wage.
As a result of these and a host of other measures, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York has examined progress under Labour on 48 different aspects of children’s welfare – from school performance to teenage pregnancy rates, from parental employment to children’s own sense of wellbeing. On 36 of the measures, he found that things improved under Labour, and we went backwards on only 4 of them.
So it’s totally disingenuous for Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith to say Labour only cared about increasing family incomes. But now the government wants to change the targets Labour set to reduce income poverty – and I can’t help thinking it’s because they know the policies of the present government will put progress into reverse.
Of course it’s right to look at all aspects of poverty - housing, education, parenting, health and so on. But it’s also right to have a basket of income poverty measures that look at whether the poorest families’ incomes are keeping up with rising living costs, whether they’re catching up with the incomes of the rest of society, what basic items they can and can’t afford, and how quickly people get out of poverty if they do fall below the poverty line .
No single measure can capture all the different aspects of poverty – which is why Labour set a range of targets in the Child Poverty Act (and which the Tories and the Libdems said they supported at the time). But now, by scrapping the income targets, which the government says it plans to do, Ministers are letting themselves off the hook. Worse they are letting down our children.
That’s not just unfair, it’s highly damaging for our economy. Picking up the pieces of child poverty will be far more expensive than taking the right actions to prevent it in the first place.