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The battle to end child poverty goes beyond government, says Graeme Brown

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Public anger and media speculation are currently focused on Britain’s failing railways. We witness daily outrage at the shortcomings of our public services after years of neglect. These are real issues. But where is the public outrage and anger about the four million children in the UK who live in poverty? We have the world’s fourth largest economy and yet official figures demonstrate that we have the highest rate of child poverty in Europe.

There is overwhelming research evidence that childhood poverty has a dramatic and long-term impact on individuals, communities and the society we live in. We know that children who grow up in poor families are more likely to leave home early, to do less well in school and are less likely to work when they reach adulthood. Adolescents who grew up poor believe health is a matter of luck, play truant and expect to leave school at the age of sixteen.

In March 1999 Tony Blair committed the government to ending child poverty within a generation. This is the most radical children’s policy initiative since the founding of the welfare state and yet it has met with general public indifference. Gordon Brown has personally championed this policy, increasing Child Benefit, introducing the Working Families’ Tax Credit and creating the Children’s Fund.

In the forthcoming Budget he will set the rate for the Child Tax Credit. The amount he sets will be critical in demonstrating that the government means business and recognises the real costs of bringing up children. Just as important will be a commitment to increase this credit each subsequent year to meet the government’s target of lifting a million children out of poverty by 2004.

Tax and benefits are crucial to achieving the aim of ending child poverty, but poverty is complex and goes beyond the neat and tidy demarcations of Whitehall departments. Poverty is certainly about not having enough money, but it is also about addressing poverty of experience, hope and aspiration. That means children growing up in safe and secure neighbourhoods with affordable housing, play and leisure facilities. It means education services which recognise the difficulties poor children face, and works with them to achieve their individual potential as well as excellence. It means that health services need to be accessible and an end to the obscenity of children who are born poor dying from ill health earlier in adult life. It means supporting families when they are experiencing problems.

Above all, it means not simply seeing children as the problem but working with them towards a solution, an approach that the Children and Young Persons Unit is promoting as an integral part of their strategy. That is complex, needs thinking about and requires action not just in the short term, but also as part of a sustained long-term programme.

Government does have the key role in delivering this ambitious programme and they need to initiate an open debate about how we are to measure progress.

But government cannot do this alone. We all need to play a role. The End Child Poverty Coalition was formed last year by twelve leading charities to keep this and every future government to the historic pledge to end child poverty. Trade unions, faith groups, the business community and the public sector all have a direct interest, and we are now seeking to engage them in action.

We all need to work together to create opportunities on the ground that will make a real difference to the lives of poor children. We need to create a sense of outrage about the plight of children in poverty. We need to win the hearts and minds of the public. All of us will ultimately need to make individual and difficult choices. Will we pay more money to poor children and demand world-class services for them as well – not just because our hearts tell us it is the right thing to do, but because our minds tell us it is the right investment?

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It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

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Graeme Brown

is Development Director of the End Child Poverty Coalition

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Action to tackle child poverty globally has
never been so urgent, argues Angela Penrose

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Despite almost universal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, global poverty reduction targets, and commitments to the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children, about 600 million children live in poverty. Children under fifteen make up more than 40 percent of the population in the poorest countries.

The initiative taken by Gordon Brown and Clare Short to convene the Westminster Conference on International Action Against Child Poverty in February 2001 was warmly welcomed by UK-based international development non-governmental organisations and faith groups with a commitment to children’s rights which have been campaigning on issues such as debt relief, and access to health and education which impact on children’s poverty.

Before the Westminster conference the groups drafted a six point plan for eliminating child poverty as a result of dialogue with the Treasury and the Department for International Development on the urgency of strengthening and harmonising international efforts to deal with child poverty globally. That plan argued that although there are limitations to the 2015 International Development Targets (now integrated into the widely owned Millennium Development Goals), those targets are an important means of mobilising government action and public opinion. Action on several fronts is required, including macroeconomic and fiscal policies which result in better outcomes for children; education for all; effective national health systems; child-focused HIV/AIDS strategies; equitable trade and investment; and tackling the causes of conflict and violence.

After the Westminster conference the participating NGOs and faith groups established a formal coalition, believing that action on the global inequities of child poverty has never been so urgent. Currently named the International Action Against Child Poverty Coalition, the group aims to ensure that its vision to end the outrage of child poverty is owned internationally, by international organisations, national governments and all levels of civil society. As civil society organisations ourselves, our primary links are with partner organisations in countries throughout the world and the millions of people in the UK who are supporters or members of our organisations and faith groups.

We aim to bring the MDGs, and in particular the means to achieve the child-focused targets, to the forefront of development thinking, campaigning and action on the part of official and voluntary institutions. This requires taking forward the six point plan agreed by IAACP members in February 2001, and monitoring the commitments made by governments and international institutions. Our role is to build solid working relationships with partner organisations in the developing world to support girls and boys, plus the adults around them, to realise their rights and improve their lives; to encourage the poorest and most marginalised children and adults to directly influence the decisions, processes and institutions that affect them. We support each other’s campaigns in order to ensure a coordinated approach to reducing child poverty.

During 2002 the coalition has a number of campaign priorities in the UK in order to raise public awareness of child poverty; encourage action required to meet the 2015 targets; and to take an active part in international events that will aid progress towards the attainment of the targets.

Over the past year members of the coalition have maintained a dialogue with the government and wish this to continue. After the Westminster conference and before international meetings such as the annual and spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, the Chancellor and Clare Short have invited members of the coalition and representatives of the UK’s different religious communities to breakfast seminars to put forward their views. We hope to sustain this constructive dialogue in the hope that, over the coming months, we will see new creative energy in developing a new multilateralism, as world leaders and ordinary people realise they can turn outrage into a positive force.

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Angela Penrose

is Co-ordinator of the International Action Against Child Poverty Coalition

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