Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Brief: Cameron’s child poverty legacy

Child poverty rose significantly under David Cameron

The Brief  is a breakdown of the forces driving the headlines and what you can do to make a difference

Catch-up As progressives we believe that part of making sure everyone gets the same opportunities means giving people fair start in life. This shouldn’t be controversial, but you know, David Cameron happened. According to charities working on the frontlines, and independent policy organisations, child poverty is increasing. Yes, in 2018.

Labour’s legacy In 2002, Tony Blair made a pledge to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Being in government and holding all the levers of power, Blair and his cabinet were able to embed fairness into our system in a way that was supposed to be difficult for a future Conservative government to reverse. Spoiler alert: they still did it.

The introduction of the Minimum Wage Act, establishing the low pay commission, and increasing spending on our health service, education system and social housing, along with many other policies – all helped to bring down child poverty. In fact, during Blair’s tenure, there was a net reduction in absolute child poverty of 600,000.

What went wrong? As a response to the 2008 crash the Conservative government imposed a regime of extreme austerity – the effectiveness of which is disputed by economists.

The result? The Child Poverty Action Group says that child poverty now costs our country £29bn, and Landman Economics say that child poverty has increased by one million (yes, one million) since Cameron came to power – bringing the total to 4.1 million. The Trussell Trust report that food bank usage has increased by 52 per cent, alongside an unfair Universal Credit system and wages that aren’t rising fast enough.

Think that sounds like a complete car crash for a developed country in the 21st century? That’s because it is.

People are saying Donald Hirsch, research lead at the Child Poverty Action Group: ‘However much governments try to redefine poverty or ponder new solutions, the fact remains that millions of children continue to be damaged by growing up in families with inadequate resources. The scale of the cost of child poverty to us all continues to dwarf the investment made so far that produced major reductions in child poverty in the last 15 years. Because the damage done by child poverty lasts for decades, such investments need to be sustained over a long period.’

Be a progressive It seems unlikely that we’ll meet New Labour’s ambitious target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, but this is exactly the kind of long-term policy thinking that progressives need to be doing. It’s time for activists to start thinking big again.

The fight begins with getting rid of Universal Credit and creating a real-living wage that actually puts enough money in people’s pockets. If you know an employer that doesn’t pay the real living wage – ask them on Twitter if they’d be interested in become a living wage employer.

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Stefan Rollnick is the editorial assistant at Progress. He tweets @StefanRollnick

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