Child poverty will continue to rise during this Parliament unless the Government commits to a bold, broad response. We are one of the most prosperous nations yet the number of children living in poverty is shocking and it is a cause for national shame. Child poverty has long been a fundamental problem facing Britain, and holding back millions of children. Even before Covid there were two fundamental facts that show how serious the situation has become:
- Children are the group of the population most likely to be in poverty, and child poverty has been rising in absolute and relative terms for nearly a decade during which pensioner poverty has fallen consistently and dramatically.
- The gap between children eligible for free school meals and their peers is now widening, after decades of continuous progress in closing this gap.
In other words, even before Covid levels of child poverty in England were getting higher, just at the outcomes for children growing up in poverty are getting worse.
The Covid crisis has shone a light on the realities this translates to: children going hungry and families – many of them working – relying on charity and living week to week. The strains on family life and on children are enormous and the impact of children’s development and life chances is clear. Some of the stories I hear from families and children wouldn’t be out of place in a 19th century Dickens novel. From the children whose parents won’t let them go to school because they couldn’t afford to self-isolate if their child got Covid, to the children who spent lockdown waiting on the doorstep for their school to deliver lunch – the only meal of the day. Or the schools desperately trying to raise 50p per child to provide a morning bagel, knowing they can use the leftovers to feed Mum.
This is a problem we must not ignore any longer.