Broken Britain: Bethnal Green and Bow – the constituency where child poverty is becoming the norm
There are now four million children living in poverty in the United Kingdom. This level of child poverty has not appeared like a sudden freak disaster. Poverty has crept into households across the UK with each policy of the last 12 years.
In 2010, there were 20 per cent (2.4 million) children living in poverty, nearly half of current figures. The alarming decline in living standards between 2021 and 2022 is the accumulation of years of cuts to social security and a decade of real-time public sector wage cuts. In 2012, childcare costs were on average 40 per cent of a full-time working couple’s income – it now costs 60 per cent.
The Conservatives have exacerbated poverty across the UK. The north-east of England has experienced the most drastic increase in child poverty from 26 per cent in 2014/15 to 38 per cent in 2020/21. These are not just statistics that should shock us, but statistics that show something is very wrong.
Almost half of all children in households with more than two children have been living below the poverty line
In my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow, we have the highest child poverty rate in the UK; 56 per cent of children are living in poverty and 8,000 are suffering from food insecurity in Tower Hamlets. While London is often heralded as the capital of opportunity and wealth, there are huge disparities across the city. Currently, 39 per cent of children in London live in poverty (compared to 27 per cent nationally) and that number is predicted to keep increasing.
Policies such as the two-child limit and over £200m cuts to councils’ budgets have accelerated poverty in areas like Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets has the highest population density and the lowest median age of any UK local authority and so falls through the many gaps in recent economic policy. The government’s response to the cost of living crisis is a prime example of how areas like Tower Hamlets get left behind. Their solution contained a list of one-off, flat-rate payments to households regardless of size or need.
Last year marked five years since the introduction of the two-child limit policy to restrict universal credit, tax credits and housing benefits to the first two children of a household. Research shows that the policy has led to a less than one per cent decline in third or more births in a household but is depriving low-income families of a further £3,000 a year. Since 2013/14, almost half of all children in households with more than two children have been living below the poverty line.
Poverty is not restricted to the unemployed either, as 56 per cent of impacted families are in work.
Many families in work are living below the poverty line due to the lack of affordable housing in London. There are currently 21,500 households on the waiting list for housing in Tower Hamlets, despite more affordable homes being built in the borough in the last five years than any other borough.
With the alarming figures for child poverty, we run the risk of it becoming a normality rather than a horrifying injustice. There needs to be greater investment in free school meals and fully funded breakfast clubs. We need more affordable housing and more affordable wraparound childcare to give parents more flexibility to work. Most crucially we need to remove the barriers to local authorities so that they can establish their own childcare provision to meet local needs rather than imprinting a one-size-fits-all across all areas, families and incomes. We need policies that commit to ending child poverty as a top national priority.
Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.
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