Maeve Sherlock on the government’s shameful decision to rebrand child poverty
Monday sees the House of Lords begin Report stage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. As the Bill went through its line-by-line scrutiny in Committee, the terrible impact of the policies within it became apparent. Ministers would rather people didn’t realise just how hard they are going to hit the incomes of so many families with children.
That’s why they are also proposing to gut Labour’s 2010 Child Poverty Act so the government won’t have to measure child poverty in future. Instead, the only obligation will be to report on children living in workless households and educational attainment. On one level that’s fine but it is in effect an attempt to rebrand ‘poverty’ as having nothing to do with money, when there is loads of crucial evidence showing the lifelong harm caused to kids growing up in low income households.
Interestingly, the government doesn’t even want to report on the effect of low earnings – even though their own analysis of poverty drivers lists this right at the top of the key factors, alongside worklessness. I guess the reason why they are doing it is obvious. They know full well that two thirds of poor children are in working households. And a government that is repeatedly damaging work incentives by attacking Universal Credit and cutting the value of in-work benefits can hardly be surprised to find that work is no longer a route out of poverty.
This isn’t just an academic debate. There are over 3 and a half million kids living in poverty in Britain, and it affects every aspect of their lives. As the End Child Poverty campaign points out, researchers found that over a million children in Britain would like to have friends around for tea for a snack once a fortnight but their families can’t afford to do it. And there are 1.7 million are in families who can’t afford to keep their homes warm. I guess many in politics, civil society and the media are beyond being shocked by this sort of evidence, but it is frankly shameful.
Later in the week, on the second day of Report, other big issues will come up relating to the Bill’s plans to cut support to families with children and to slash £30 a week from the benefits paid to people too sick or disabled to take a proper job. On Monday however, our key priority is to hold government to account for their actions on child poverty.
Labour will therefore be backing an amendment by the Bishop of Durham which would force the government to report on child poverty in terms of income. I can see why Ministers don’t like this. It means they will have to account to Parliament and the public for the consequences of their actions. But that’s exactly what politicians should do. If you’re big enough to force through decisions which push kids into poverty, you should be big enough to stand up and defend the effects of those decisions.
Baroness Maeve Sherlock is Shadow DWP Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @MaeveSherlock
Published 24th January 2016