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Tue, 29 September 2020

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The Prime Minister should apologise for misleading child poverty statistics and take urgent action to support worried families

The Prime Minister should apologise for misleading child poverty statistics and take urgent action to support worried families

Labour has called for urgent steps that would relieve pressure on family incomes, writes Kate Green MP. | PA Images

4 min read

The Prime Minister’s fiddling with child poverty figures isn’t just disingenuous and dishonourable, it's an excuse. Child poverty in recent years is a direct result of the policy choices made by Conservative-led governments.

The publication by End Child Poverty of correspondence from the Office for Statistics Regulation, which lays bare the way in which Boris Johnson misused child poverty statistics in his response to Keir Starmer in Parliament last month, ought to be a shaming moment for the Prime Minister.

Sadly, it comes as no surprise – we already knew that his use of the figures was dodgy.

In his question to the Prime Minister, highlighting that 600,000 more children had fallen into relative income poverty since 2012, Keir was after all simply quoting the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission. But we can understand why the Prime Minister didn’t want to acknowledge the statistics.

The Prime Minister can’t change the fact that more children are in poverty than when Labour left office.

As the Commission noted in its ‘Monitoring Social Mobility’ report published on 10 June, ‘there is now mounting evidence that welfare changes over the past ten years have put many more children into poverty’.

In other words, the shocking rise in child poverty in recent years is a direct result of the policy choices made by Conservative-led governments.

The Prime Minister’s selective use of different years and different measures of poverty to disguise the truth can’t change the fact that more children are in poverty than when Labour left office.

And, as with the rise in poverty under the Tories, the fall in poverty under Labour didn’t happen by chance – it too was the result of deliberate, and highly effective, policy choices.

The national minimum wage, tax credits and benefits for children, the rollout of the national childcare strategy, and a host of other policies designed to support families and promote child wellbeing, made a real difference to the lives of all children, and especially the most disadvantaged.

One of the most troubling aspects of child poverty today is the extent to which it happens in families where parents are working.

Everyone agrees work ought to be a route out of poverty. But, too often, it isn’t.

Our insecure, poorly paid labour market doesn’t lift families out of poverty. Now, with the looming threat of rising unemployment as furlough support reduces next month, then comes to an end altogether in October, the situation threatens to become desperate.

The chancellor needs to do much more to support low income families with children through this crisis. I recognise the measures that have been taken, but they simply don’t go far enough.

Labour has called for urgent steps that would relieve pressure on family incomes.

We want to see the so-called two child policy and benefit cap, that restrict the amount of financial support a family receives irrespective of what they actually need to provide for their children, to be lifted.

We’ve called for the 5-week wait for universal credit payments to be abolished (yes, I know advances are available, but who wants to go into more debt at a time of such uncertainty?).

We’ve suggested – till we’re blue in the face – that a sectoral approach is needed to removing the furlough arrangements to support workers in the hardest hit sectors (which, by the way, are often sectors in which mothers are more likely to work, such as hospitality and retail, because they offer the flexible working needed to combine work with caring for their children).

The chancellor made no mention of childcare in his spending statement the other day – if the prime minister wants parents back at work next week, this was an astonishing omission.

The sector is in deep difficulty, with one in four providers saying they face going out of business within a year; that would lead to the loss of around 20,000 more providers, so targeted support for the sector is urgently needed.

The Prime Minister’s fiddling with the child poverty figures isn’t just disingenuous and dishonourable, it is an excuse for not taking the vital actions needed.

I certainly hope Mr Johnson will apologise to parliament for his misleading use of the statistics.

But even more importantly, I hope he’ll listen to Labour and take the actions that are essential now to support desperately worried families.

 

Kate Green is the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston and shadow secretary for education. 

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