Children in working families, rather than beggars and vagrants, are the face of modern poverty in Britain today – a country which is one of the “most unfair in the developed world.” For five million children face being “sentenced to a lifetime of poverty” by 2020, according to shocking new research from Save The Children.
Cuts to benefits, the rising cost of living and years of flat wages have created a “triple whammy” for the country’s children, warned the charity. Policies such as the so-called bedroom tax combined with the slashing of tax credits and council tax relief mean “the social safety net no longer acts as a sufficient backstop for poor families,” claims the Save The Children report. Recent changes to social security have cut the incomes of the poorest by between eight and nine per cent, it calculated.
Soaring food prices and childcare costs have also hit families, with the cost of food rising by 19 per cent when compared with other goods between 2007 and 2011. A nursery place for a child under two cost 77 per cent more last year than it did a decade ago. And significant numbers of families across England are skipping meals in a bid to make ends meet. Every region of the country is affected, ranging from East Anglia, where more than one in ten [11 per cent] of families have gone without food, to London, where the proportion rises to more than one in four [28 per cent] of families. And in many areas, more than one in ten families cannot afford to buy their children new shoes when they need them.
Ending child poverty by 2020 is a target that all political parties have committed to. But the numbers living in poverty could actually increase by 1.4 million by then – a rise of 41 per cent on the 3.5 million children currently living in poverty. And political promises to eradicate child poverty by 2020 are “no longer credible” says the report.
Half of low income families have seen their incomes decrease in the last five years, according to the charity. Around 70 per cent had found it difficult to meet payments and more than two in five said they had got into debt as a result.
Without “dramatic change” we risk “writing off the future of millions of British children, giving them an unfair start in life,” warned Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children. “Far too many of our children are living in cold and damp homes, without healthy food, with parents who can see no end to their situation,” he added.
Responding to the findings, shadow Work and Pensions Minister Rachel Reeves said: “Under David Cameron child poverty is set to rise, not fall, and the cost of living crisis has left millions of families struggling to make ends meet. A Labour government will freeze energy prices, raise the minimum wage, extend free childcare provision, scrap the Bedroom Tax and introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get people off benefits and into work.”
Yet the problem “isn’t a result of any one policy or any individual decision; nor has it simply happened since the recession,” says the report. “We do not believe any party is showing a sufficient strategic response to the scale and seriousness of the problem.”
Work “has ceased to become a sufficient solution to poverty for families with children”, it warns. Two thirds of children in poverty now live in working households, a rise of 20 per cent since 2003.
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