21st January 2021

Politicians must take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ and come up with a big, bold plan to fix it

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Thursday) publishing a call from a cross-party collection of politicians and campaigners calling for urgent action to tackle the blight of child poverty.

The set of short essays includes contributions from Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, DWP Select Committee Chair Stephen Timms MP, Legatum Institute Director Baroness Philippa Stroud, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, David Burrowes of Strengthening Families, Edward Davies of the Centre for Social Justice, Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Oasis Charitable Trust founder Steve Chalke, Association of Directors of Children’s Services Vice President Charlotte Ramsden, Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust and Hannah Slaughter of the Resolution Foundation.

Introducing the contributions, the Children’s Commissioner warns that child poverty in England will continue to rise during this Parliament unless the Government commits to a bold, broad response, and that the Covid crisis is creating a child poverty timebomb that could see millions more children falling into poverty without urgent help. In 2010/11, there were 3.6 million children living in relative poverty in the UK after housing costs. By the start of the Anne Longfield’s term as Children’s Commissioner, in 2014/15, the number had risen to 3.9 million, rising to 4.2 million or 30% of children by 2018/19.  By the end of this parliament, even with a strong economic recovery, one in three children will be living in relative poverty – a level not seen since the 1990s.

While growing up in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean an unhappy childhood, it can make life a lot harder. In a survey carried out last year by the Children’s Commissioner, one in five children listed “not having enough money” as one of their top three worries. 5% listed “not having enough food or clothes”.  Not only does poverty bring material hardship for children, it harms their future life chances. At every stage of education, poorer children do worse than their more affluent peers. As a result, they are more likely to enter adulthood with fewer opportunities. Previous Children’s Commissioner’s Office research shows that children on Free School Meals (FSM) are more than twice as likely as their peers to leave education without a Level 2 Qualification (5 GCSEs, a technical equivalent or an apprenticeship).

For the first time in decades, the disadvantage gap between children in poverty and their peers during school has increased, while the disadvantage gap at age 19 has been increasing for several years. In short, for the first time in decades there is a double-whammy of rising child poverty and worsening life chances for children in poverty. Covid-19 will only have accelerated these trends.

Anne Longfield is urging the Government to end the uncertainty and worry facing families around whether the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift introduced by the Chancellor at the start of the Covid crisis will be retained. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation this week shows that over 300,000 children would be shifted into poverty if the uplift is removed in April.

In the set of essays:

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

“Child poverty was already a problem before the pandemic, but it has been laid bare by the Covid crisis and must not be ignored any longer. The shocking image of a family being sent half a carrot in a food parcel shows a system of support that, as well as often falling short, is at times demeaning and stigmatising.

“Yet some are still squeamish about even using the phrase ‘child poverty’. Neither of the two main political parties fought the last General Election with plans to significantly reduce child poverty, despite the fact it had been rising for most of the past decade.

“In the short term, I want the Government to commit to keeping the £20 UC uplift. But too often policy changes to help people in poverty are a sticking plaster for the symptoms, made as a result of short-term political embarrassment.

“I am pleased to publish this collection of essays, which makes powerful arguments for an overhaul of the current system, with positive and practical solutions for cutting the number of children living in poverty. Both Ministers and the Opposition should take these ideas on board.

“Child poverty is one of the four major political, economic and social challenges facing us, along with decarbonising our economy, looking after an aging population, and preparing the jobs market for automation. We need to treat it with the same seriousness, and even greater urgency.

“Politicians must take child poverty out of the ‘too difficult box’ now, and come up with a big, bold, long-term plan for fixing it.”