According to a new national report published this week, child poverty in the UK is far from over.
Pledges by politicians to end child poverty have become all too familiar to voters in recent years; claims that sometimes seem too idealistic, impossible even. Blair claimed he wanted to eradicate it within a decade whereas some see Gordon Brown’s work against child poverty as being one of the highlights of his premiership. However, the government Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty has released damning figures that damage not only Labour, but also the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, commitment to the important issue.
Alan Milburn, Health Secretary under Blair from 1999-2003, has led the commission and has made no secret of his less than favourable views on the subject. Describing the lack of progress the coalition has made and the lack of clear strategy, he described their work as a “Whitehall farce” and strongly implied the government have ignored the Commission’s advice.
The figures speak for themselves.
By 2020, when the target for eradicating child poverty should have been met, the commission estimates around 3.5 million children will still be living in homes below the breadline. Not only that, but 2020 will actually, for the first time since the records began, be a decade where the absolute poverty rate doesn’t fall at all. Indeed, an increase in austerity measures following the election could lead to an increase.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourselves why? Obviously the country has been in a recession etc etc but seriously? All those pledges, all those commitments and resources have led to complete failure?
The report points the finger not only at governmental strategy failures, but also at the housing market. Home ownership rates for young people have halved in the last twenty years, which combined with spending cuts led to this dire situation.
Despite all this, the comments of David Cameron’s spokesperson certainly, at least in my view, add fuel to Milburn’s claims that parties are not being honest to the electorate. Instead of accepting the criticisms, the spokesman said child poverty is under the Conservatives at the lowest rate it has been for 30 years.
I doubt very much this will be of any comfort to those families and children all around Britain today who can look forward to 2020, where they will still be living in poverty, in the fourth richest country in the world.
It remains to be seen then, whether the suggestions outlined in the report will be followed. Some seem on the whole achievable, such as half of all larger workplaces offering quality apprenticeships, and fit in with government policy. Others, namely the radical proposal to make unpaid internships illegal, would, I am sure, need significant persuasion in order to be implemented.
For too long, poverty in Britain has been subject to the type of party politics Milburn has drawn attention to. It is time all the parties worked together for the nation, rather than trying to score cheap points at the expense of others- 3.5 million vulnerable children, to be exact.