London: our child poverty capital
The child poverty figures released yesterday once again showed London still tops the league table of high child poverty rates but, more strikingly, highlighted the growing impact housing costs are having on poverty in the capital.
There are more poor children in London than in Scotland and Wales combined. With 37 per cent, or 0.7 million, of the capital’s children living in poverty, it leaves its nearest ‘competitor’ – the North West at 30 per cent – for dust. One in every seven poor children in the UK lives in London.
So this bleak picture looks bad however you look at it, but what we really need is action. I still live in hope that one day a London children are no more likely to be in poverty than children born in other parts of the UK.
To do that, we need to both increase family incomes and decrease costs. Increasing incomes is a combination of earnings from work and social security. Mums in London are less likely to work than in other parts of the country. We need effective employment support that enables parents to start employment and progress their careers. We also need a jobs market that provides a route out of poverty through decent hours and decent pay. Too many mums are currently unable to find jobs that match their skills and offer the hours that enable them to balance family and work responsibilities.
We also need to ensure that parents see financial gains from working. Nationally, two thirds of children in poverty live in a working household. London has the highest childcare costs in the country and a shortage in provision outside of normal office hours. Even if parents can find childcare to suit their working hours, they are likely to find a significant proportion of their earnings gobbled up paying for it. For some, this will even mean they are worse off working.
London’s high housing costs are well documented, but this new data gives a really clear picture of what this means for families lower down the income distribution. The data gives two different child poverty measures: before housing costs and after housing costs, with the latter giving a far more accurate picture of how much families have to spend on essentials.
The chasm between these two figures in London is striking: child poverty rates sky-rocket from 18 per cent to 37 per cent once housing costs are considered.
This difference is double anywhere else in the country. High London rents are leaving families in and out of work reliant on housing benefit, meaning incomes are being artificially increased by sums being passed straight to landlords.
These high housing costs mean that Londoners were hit disproportionately hard by cuts to housing benefit. This has made it even harder to some families to pay their rent and for essentials for their children. These changes also broke the link between assessed needs and social security support. As rents continue to rise faster than inflation in London, more and more families are going to face a struggle to pay the rent.
These figures show London’s child poverty crisis continuing unabated. As the contest for who will be the next Mayor of London heats up, we look forward to hear candidates plans for what they will do help parents who can work to overcome the barriers to employment and to ensure that work provides a route out of poverty.