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Cutting a national welfare budget the Conservative Party sees as ‘bloated’ is one of the Government’s key priorities for this Parliament, with Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, arguing in Parliament that cuts have so far not caused any more child poverty and that the real answer is to support families by ‘making work pay’.
According to Government statistics, child poverty figures are at their lowest since the mid-1980s, although the proportion of children affected is still as high as one in six (2.3m children) and Prime Minister David Cameron is understood to support changing the way that poverty is measured.
Campaign groups are yet to be convinced on the argument for cutting benefits, however, despite pre-election polling showing public support for the policy. Indeed, the Children’s Society go as far as to say that the Government has already ‘moved the goalposts’ on poverty figures and that children are actually worse off.
Chief executive Matthew Reed comments, “It is a scandal that there are 200,000 more children who have been pushed deeper into poverty over the past year.
“There has also been a steady rise over the last five years in the numbers of children living in work poverty, clearly showing that even those families with jobs are suffering because of government policies.
“Moving the goalposts by changing the definition of child poverty will do nothing to help the millions of children who are suffering in real poverty. The Government needs to stop debating definitions and start doing more to help children. Income is central to tackling the problem and the Government must act on the targets it has committed to in the Child Poverty Act. It must take effective steps to reduce the number of families living on low incomes, including by making sure that work always pays. It is crucial that all of these families get the support they need.
“It is unacceptable that in this day and age, in one of the world’s richest countries, that 3.7 million children remain in poverty. Clearly the Government has failed to move closer to ending child poverty.”
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, also expresses concern over the efficacy of welfare reform, saying: “Every child living in poverty is a child that’s being let down. Child poverty is a direct reflection of a failure, as a society, to protect our most vulnerable families.
“Poverty is blighting the life chances of our children, making them more likely to fall sick, do less well at school and be unemployed in the future. Government plans to cut struggling families’ incomes further by changing tax credits is deeply concerning.
“So that every child gets the chances in life every child deserves, this Government must ensure that changes to the benefits system makes work pay for those on low incomes, and doesn’t force families further into poverty.”
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, agrees that figures showing 2.3m children living in poverty do not reflect well on the Government.
She comments, “These figures make grim reading for anyone looking for progress on child poverty. Because, make no mistake, we are facing a child poverty crisis in the years ahead and the Government is not going to meet the child poverty targets it signed up to. Rather than opening up opportunity, the UK is now going down the road of closing down life chances for hundreds of thousands of children in low income families.
“On the Government’s preferred absolute poverty measure, there are half a million more children in poverty than there were in 2010.
“This child poverty crisis will undoubtedly deepen if the Government goes ahead with plans to cut help for children in low income families and for the low paid. You don't tackle low pay by making the low paid poorer. You don't tackle child poverty by slashing targeted help for children in low income families and then claiming money doesn't matter.
“The figures show us that most parents of poor children are working and in couples. The root causes of child poverty are not to be found in parents’ behaviour. It is low pay, the lack of adequate childcare, and cuts to children’s benefits we should look to for an explanation of child poverty and not to parents who struggle daily to protect their children against its worst effects.
“Instead of highlighting symptoms of poverty, such as debt, the Government must tackle the root causes of poverty. It needs to protect children’s benefits with the same triple lock protection pensions enjoy, fix the deep cuts to tax credits help for the low paid, tackle cripplingly high rents, high childcare costs and extend the good work it’s done on free school meals.”