Government must act urgently on devastating child poverty warning

October 11, 2011

In response to the publication of a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which projects child poverty to rise by 800,000 children as a result of the Government’s policies, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“This devastating report leaves the Government’s child poverty and social mobility strategies in jeopardy. The Government has to stop pretending you can fight poverty or improve life chances by making the poor poorer.

“Ministers seem to be in denial that, under current policies, their legacy threatens to be the worst poverty record of any government for a generation. They risk damaging childhoods and children’s life chances, as well as our national economic wellbeing from wasted potential and spiralling social costs. It would be a catastrophic failure in public policy and political leadership.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. Government is about choices and there’s nothing more important than what we owe to our children. We need a child poverty approach that builds on what has been proven to work in previous years, which saw the most sustained drop in child poverty levels since records began, including during the recession. That’s investing in child benefit and child tax credits, providing help for parents to find and afford the childcare they need to take up jobs, and genuine help for people to find jobs they can raise a family on.”

Notes for editors

Political context:

 David Cameron has repeatedly called for the Conservatives to act on child poverty, relative poverty and inequality. But government action has moved in the opposite direction.

  • In his Scarman speech on 22 November 2006, Cameron said: “Fighting relative poverty [is] a central policy goal…I want my Party to be in the vanguard of the fight against poverty"

  • In a speech in Manchester on 27 March 2007 on the quality of childhood, he said: “Ending child poverty is central to improving child wellbeing.”

  • In his party conference speech in 2009, he said: “We can make British poverty history and we will make British poverty history”.
  • The government’s budgets and spending review have been presented as fair and progressive by Ministers, but those dubious claims have been comprehensively taken apart by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which finds current spending plans regressive, with the poorest families with children losing more than any other group.

Nick Clegg has called for slate to be wiped clean so that the next generation isn't unfairly saddled with the debt.

  • In a letter of 29 April 2010, he told a group of campaigning organisations, including Child Poverty Action Group, that he would sign up to a ‘Fairness Test’ to ensure deficit reduction measures do not increase inequality.
  • In August 2010, in a report commissioned by the End Child Poverty coalition, chaired by CPAG, the IFS predicted child poverty will rise due to current spending plans. Nick Clegg disputed the IFS’s approach and justified cuts on the basis that it would be unfair to saddle the next generation with our debts – this overlooks that it makes children bear the brunt today and ignores the consequent social and economic costs.

Background:

1999

  • Tony Blair announces goal of ending child poverty by 2020.

2005

  • 7 December: On his first day as party leader, David Cameron visits Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy to discuss the causes of poverty, saying: “In the end, the test for our policies will not be how they affect the better off, but how they help the worst-off in our country – empowering them to climb the ladder from poverty to wealth.”

2006

  • 11 April: Oliver Letwin writes in the Guardian: “Today, I can confirm that David Cameron's Conservatives are committed to the government target of ending child poverty by 2020.” He adds: “Of course, in the next election, we will be judged by our policies - and, if elected, we will be judged by whether those policies work.”
  • 10 July: David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ speech in which he suggests that poverty contributes to children getting into trouble and into crime
  • 24 November: David Cameron’s Scarman lecture: “Lord Scarman concluded that one of the principal causes of those riots was poverty.” He added: “…I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”
  • 92.7% of Conservative Party voting members approved the ‘aims and values’ document Built to Last, which includes the ‘value statement’: "The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich."
  • 14 December: Iain Duncan Smith foreword to CSJ ‘Economic Dependency’ report: “In modern times, poverty has been a difficult issue for the Conservative Party to deal with. However, as this Report makes clear, it is too important an issue to be left to the Labour Party. All forms of poverty – absolute and relative – must be dealt with.”

2007

  • David Cameron’s ‘Making British Poverty History’ speech at Chance UK: “So when I say that we can make British poverty history please do not tell me that it cannot be done.”

2008

  • 9 May: David Cameron comment piece in the Independent: “It is the Conservative Party that is the champion of progressive ideals in Britain today… if you care about poverty, if you care about inequality… forget about the Labour Party… if you count yourself a progressive, a true progressive, only we can achieve real change.”
  • 17 July: Oliver Letwin, chair of the Conservative Party policy review, writes in the New Statesman, in an article titled Party of the Poor’: “This is, of course, just one part of the recent shift in British politics. In the past two years, Conservatives have adopted the aspiration to end child poverty - Iain Duncan Smith's Social Justice Policy Group has come up with the most convincing analysis yet provided of the nature and causes of multiple deprivation - and David Cameron is leading the debate on social responsibility and social mobility.”

2009

  • 8 October: David Cameron’s last party conference speech as Leader of the Opposition: “Excuse me? Who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made inequality greater? No, not the wicked Tories. You, Labour: you're the ones that did this to our society. So don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who you have let down.”
  • 10 November: David Cameron’s Hugo Young lecture: “We all know, in our hearts, that as long as there is deep poverty living systematically side by side with great riches, we all remain the poorer for it… And we should focus on closing the gap between the bottom and the middle, not because that is the easy thing to do, but because focusing on those who do not have the chance of a good life is the most important thing to do.”

2010

  • The main political parties support Child Poverty Act with statutory targets for 2020 and statutory requirement for Government to publish a strategy that explains how progress will be made.
  • 29 April: David Cameron’s closing statement in the final leaders’ debate: “But there’s something else you need to know about me which is that I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest. That’s true in good times, but it’s even more true in difficult times”
  • 3 May: David Cameron refers to his leaders debate statement (29 April) in a letter to CPAG.
  • Coalition agreement includes commitment to the child poverty targets for 2020.
  • 15 June: A Government minister in the Lords, Lord Hill, tells Peers: “The Child Poverty Act establishes a Child Poverty Commission to provide advice to the Government on the development of its child poverty strategy. The Act also requires a child poverty strategy to be published by March 2011. The commission must therefore be established in time to feed into the child poverty strategy.”
  • 7 July: David Cameron at PMQs says: “We are absolutely committed to meeting the child poverty targets. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this Budget, despite all its difficulties, does not add a single family to child poverty, in contrast to the last Government, who put up child poverty by 100,000…They shake their heads. Check the figures and come back to me.”

 

2011

  • Official figures show that from 1998 to 2010 child poverty was reduced by 900,000 children to lowest level in 25 years.
  • 25 March: deadline for the Government to publish a UK child poverty strategy informed by advice from the Child Poverty Commission, as per requirements of CPA 2010.
  • 5 April: Government publishes its UK child poverty strategy, over a week after the legally required date, which gives no account of what progress will be made for targets on the number of children in poverty, and which has not been produced with advice from the Child Poverty Commission.
  • 4 October: Iain Duncan Smith tells a party conference fringe meeting that the Conservatives are the “party of the poor”.
  • 5 October: David Cameron’s party conference speech: “So, who’s going lift the poorest up?.. Who’s going to create a more equal society?...It will be us..”

CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.

CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty, which has over 150 member organisations and is campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.

For further information please contact:

Tim Nichols

CPAG Press Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302

tnichols@cpag.org.uk