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‘More to be done on child poverty’

07 March 2014

A staff reporter


Carrying a message: campaigners and Church leaders assemble outside the House of Parliament in front of a giant billboard on Wednesday, to publicise the End Hunger Fast campaign urging the Government to take action  on welfare for people in the UK who are going hungry 

Carrying a message: campaigners and Church leaders assemble outside the House of Parliament in front of a giant billboard on Wednesday, to...

BISHOPS welcomed the Government's restated commitment to tackling child poverty, but said that "clear leadership" and "cross-party consensus" were needed if ambitious targets were to be met.

The Government unveiled its new strategy last week, but a consensus appeared unlikely at the outset, as even at its launch there were accusations of squabbling by ministers, and the policy was branded a "missed opportunity" by the Prime Minister's social-mobility tsar, Alan Milburn.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, wanted to introduce a new measure of child poverty that takes into account education and family issues, including parental ill health and worklessness, but the Treasury is said to have blocked the move.

The strategy restates the Government's commitment to ending child poverty by 2020, and lists a range of existing measures - from free school meals to support for childcare - to help to achieve that. Experts have warned, however, that child poverty is likely to grow and not fall in the UK, owing to the Government's welfare reforms.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted that by 2020 child poverty in the UK will have increased from 3.5 million to 4.7 million, and that the significant driver behind this increase will be the tax and welfare changes introduced since 2010.

A joint statement from the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, and Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, said that "much more" needed to be done. It said: "The measures announced are a step in the right direction, though much more will need to be done to enable us to come close to achieving this very ambitious target. As the economy recovers, we encourage the Government to pursue policies to ensure that the proceeds of growth will be shared by low income families with children, and by other groups that have been most adversely affected by the recession."

The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed, said that the strategy fell "far short of what is needed to prevent a significant increase in the number of children living in poverty by 2020.

"Too many of the strategy's measures will fail to end child poverty. Some will make the problem worse. The inclusion of the bedroom tax in this strategy is alarming. We know from our direct work with families that this will only make children poorer, for example by displacing more families.

"Much more is needed to help the millions of families across the UK that every day face harsh choices between heating and eating. Making free school meals available to all children in infant schools is a significant step forward; yet 500,000 children over the age of seven living on the breadline will still miss out."

The Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, and Baptist Union issued a joint statement saying that the Government's plan was not "credible".

The policy adviser for the Joint Public Issues Team of the three Churches, Paul Morrison, said: "Child poverty is set to increase for the rest of the decade and beyond, and this strategy will not stop this.

"Perversely the strategy trumpets measures that will actually increase child poverty. The Benefit Cap and the Bedroom Tax are mentioned as poverty reduction strategies; yet we know that already both measures are driving families into poverty.

"By 2020 one in three of our children is set to live in poverty. But rather than addressing this fundamental problem, the strategy restates old policies - some positive, some negative, but none substantial enough to grasp the seriousness of the challenge ahead. For families which can't afford to heat their homes, or feed and clothe their children adequately, this strategy is a wasted opportunity."

The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said on BBC TV's The Andrew Marr Show that welfare reforms were "punitive" and forcing families into "destitution". The social-action arm of the RC Church also said the Government needed to do more and that many children in poverty already have working parents.

Wilmslow inquiry. Churches in the Wilmslow constituency of the Chancellor, George Osborne, held a meeting to look at the reasons behind welfare reform and the impact that the reforms were having in the area. They pledged to work across the churches to stop the "negative ways" in which people talked about those receiving welfare.

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