Tony Blair joins cross-party calls for new strategy to combat rising child poverty levels

Former Prime Minister urges ministers to tackle ‘blight of child poverty’ as part of a new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair joined cross-party calls today (Thursday 21 January) for a new national child poverty strategy as a new report warns that child poverty will continue to rise unless the Government commits to a “bold, broad response”.

The new report and series of essays, ‘Child Poverty: The crisis we can’t keep ignoring’, says that children are the group of the population most likely to be in poverty, and that child poverty has been rising in absolute and relative terms for nearly a decade, while pensioner poverty has fallen “consistently and dramatically”.

The report – put together by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England – says the gap between children eligible for free school meals and their peers is now widening, after decades of continuous progress in closing this gap. Longfield warned that by the end of this parliament, even with a strong economic recovery, one in three children will be living in relative poverty – a level not seen since the 1990s.

The call comes as the Government faces pressure to extend the £20 per week top-up to universal credit, which at the moment is set to end in April 2021. The report says this will shift 300,000 more children into poverty.

Writing in his essay contribution to the report, the former Prime Minister said: “Most charities involved in combatting child poverty say that more than 4 million children now live below the breadline – 600,000 more than in 2011-12 – and that number will climb past 5 million as a result of cuts and the economic impact of Covid in the next few years.”

“I fear the economic scarring left by the pandemic and lockdowns will further turbo-charge the reversal of the gains made between 1999 and 2010, while we can currently only guess the long-term effects on children’s education and wellbeing.”

Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, also raised stark warnings about the impact of poverty in defining a child’s life chances. The median annual earnings among adults aged 28 who were on free school meals at age 16 was found to be just £13,500 compared to £30,500 for all adults.

Anne said: “Not only does poverty bring material hardship for children, it harms their future life chances. At every stage of education, poorer children do worse than their more affluent peers,” adding that their research shows that children on Free School Meals (FSM) are more than twice as likely as their peers to leave education without a Level 2 Qualification (e.g. a pass at GCSE).

Leaders from across the sector contributed essays to the report, including Conservative MP Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee; Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chief Executive of the Legatum Institute; Emma Revie CEO of The Trussell Trust; and Charlotte Ramsden, Director for People, Salford City Council and former ADCS Vice President.

Judith Cavanagh, coordinator of the End Child Poverty coalition, welcomed the cross-party call, saying: “Regardless of political stance, we can all agree on what a good childhood looks like: having enough food to eat; somewhere safe to live; the chance to fully participate in school; pursuing passions; and building ambitions for a successful future.”

“Yet, the pandemic is worsening what was already a child poverty crisis. It threatens to pull even more children away from the childhood they deserve, and cuts more families adrift. Without action, we risk increasing the gap in opportunity and achievement between low income families and those better off.”

Read the report and contributed essays: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/report/child-poverty/

Photo credit: Center for American Progress
Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode

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