The government’s plans to scrap the legal duty to accurately and comprehensively monitor the number of children living in low-income families have – thankfully – been firmly rejected by the House of Lords. However, these plans will go back to the Commons and are still at risk of being overturned.
The welfare reform and work bill proposed replacing the current legal requirement to report on the number of children living in poverty, with a range of indicators focusing on how well children do in their GCSEs, and whether or not their parents are in work. By only reporting on children who live in non-working households, the statistics would fail to give a true reflection of the scale of the problem.
There are 3.7 million children living in poverty in the United Kingdom. That is over a quarter of all children growing up in homes where their parents or families struggle to pay even for basic provisions and bills.
Children born into poverty are more likely to be absent from school due to illness or to be hospitalised. They are three times as likely to suffer mental health issues and have a bigger chance when they become adults of being left with a legacy of severe, long-term and life-limiting illness.
Shockingly, nearly two-thirds of children living in poverty are in a home where at least one parent is in work. By proposing to focus only on worklessness, the government would be ignoring 2.4 million children who grow up in deprivation despite their parent being employed. These are children who are living in real poverty today.
The UK is one of the richest countries in the world. However, analysis by End Child Poverty – a coalition of more than 100 organisations including The Children’s Society – shows that nearly six million children live in homes where families are so close to the edge that they cannot even afford to save £10 a month. Parents of 300,000 children cannot afford to buy them a warm winter coat, while some 1.7 million children are living in families who struggle to keep their house warm and 1.6m live in families who are failing to keep up with their bills.
Every day, End Child Poverty members see the real impacts that poverty has on the lives of children and young people. We know that many children lack basic necessities, such as shoes that fit properly, or are unable to take part in basic activities with their friends.
It is critical that children in this country are given the best possible chance in life. As long as millions of children are living in poverty – in homes that are too cold or without a warm winter coat – their life opportunities will remain stunted.
In 2010 all the main political parties committed to measure and report on the number of children living in poverty and to eradicate it by 2020. It is not too late for the government to keep this promise.
Sam Royston is chair of the End Children Poverty coalition and policy director at The Children’s Society. He tweets @Sam_Royston
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