Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Poverty and politics

Attacking child poverty is not only the right thing to do, it makes political sense too, believes Tom Watson

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Tackling poverty is right at the heart of our historic mission. Giving every child a first class start, enabling them to climb as far as their effort and ability allows is what the Labour Party exists to achieve.

Today’s children are our future teachers, doctors, engineers or scientists, our employers and our workforce. What we do for them now determines the future of our country. Yet one in three were being brought up in low income families when we took office; less likely to stay on at school – or even attend at all; and more likely to end up in poverty, in the worst jobs or without any job at all.

We’ve already made a start. In our first term we took steps to take the first million children out of poverty. In this term we’ll take the second million out of poverty on the way to achieving our goal of eradicating it altogether in a generation.

Ending this national disgrace is not just the morally right thing to do; it is how we build a just and fair society, ensure our country’s prosperity in the future and prevent vandalism, crime and delinquency.

And it is a political imperative as well. The biggest debate after the last election was how we stem the collapse in turnout in poor urban communities – areas that have supported Labour through thick and thin.

Those of us representing traditional Labour constituencies know tackling poverty has to be amongst our top priorities. Anyone who thinks tackling child poverty isn’t a priority or that we shouldn’t spend money on tax credits to do it should come with me to West Bromwich. My constituents will tell them, just as they told me at the election, about the impact Labour’s revolution is having on their lives. 2,300 families in my constituency are on average £35 a week better off on the Working Families’ Tax Credit. And if 85 percent of tax-paying families in the country – those on incomes of up to £42,000 a year – are getting up to an extra £10 a week thanks to the Children’s Tax Credit, then I’ll bet there’s few working families in West Bromwich who are ineligible. Alongside record rises in Child Benefit, the national minimum wage and extra help for children whose parents can’t work, they are making a real difference in constituencies like mine.

And if anyone tells you that we face a choice between improving public services and tackling poverty, tell them such a choice is a Tory trap. It is an argument that we cannot deliver for the voters we won in 1997 and have kept since, without neglecting our traditional supporters. It’s the old lie that kept us out of power for eighteen years.

In any case, there simply isn’t a choice. Tackling poverty means improving incomes and driving up the quality of public services on which people rely. We have provided one million extra childcare places. The new Sure Start and Children’s Fund programmes are targeting extra resources on the youngest children in the poorest communities. We have slashed unemployment, the biggest cause of family poverty. Investment in the NHS provides the poorest with the care the wealthy have long taken for granted. Improving education opens up opportunities for all.

The Chancellor’s Pre-Budget Report showed we could – indeed we can and must – improve public services and tackle poverty. That is what we were elected to do. Let’s not forget that when the Tories left office child poverty had trebled, increasing from 1.3 million in 1979 to four million. Under the Tories the average income for households with children was around 30 percent lower than for those without children. The last election showed that the Tories pay a heavy price when a better deal for children becomes a central dividing line in an election campaign.So let the Tories wage war on the poor. Labour’s job is to wage war on poverty.

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Tom Watson MP

is MP for West Bromwich East

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