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Criticism for Cameron's agenda on poverty

15 January 2016


Coping with babies: the Prime Minister joins a prenatal class run by Family Action, in north London, on Monday

Coping with babies: the Prime Minister joins a prenatal class run by Family Action, in north London, on Monday

THE charity Church Action on Poverty (CAP) has criticised new anti-poverty measures for ignoring the "terrible impact" of welfare cuts.

Mr Cameron set out planned social reforms as part of his "all-out assault" on poverty on Monday. They include increasing funding and support for mental-health services and mentoring schemes, tearing down the worst "sink estates", a "help to save" initiative for families, and government-funded parenting classes.

A CAP spokesman said: "These measures mean very little when considered alongside the terrible impact which benefit reforms, cuts, and sanctions are having on people struggling to get by."

Mr Cameron confirmed that the Government would double funding for relationship support and couples counselling to £70 million in the next five years to tackle poor parenting. "Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together," he said, speaking at the charity Family Action in north London. "That’s why strengthening families is at the heart of our agenda."

CAP said, however, that poverty "puts pressure on families", and that family breakdown was more often a symptom of poverty than its cause. "The answer is to ensure that there is decently paid work and a proper benefits safety net for everyone — not to try and blame the problem on poor parenting," a spokesman said.

The Church Urban Fund, on the other hand, welcomed the move. Its executive chairman, Canon Paul Hackwood, said: "We know from our research that over 50 per cent of church leaders say that family breakdown is a major factor in forcing people into poverty."

Mr Cameron said that raising children could be "enormously isolating", and announced a voucher scheme to incentivise parents to take up parenting classes.

It is his second attempt to pilot a similar scheme after the first — set up in 2011 — failed to attract the expected interest. CanParent drew just 2956 parents, at a cost of £5 million.

In his speech, Mr Cameron pledged £290 million (up to 2020) to help new and expectant mothers combat poor mental health. The money will give 30,000 more women each year access to specialist mental-health care, including classes, before and after giving birth.

The chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Frank Field, said that the new funding could bring "significant gains" for children starting school. His 2010 report The Foundation Years suggested that poor children were more likely to fall into poverty as adults, and should be given a better chance in life.

Mr Cameron set aside a further £247 million to put mental-health services in every hospital in the UK with an Accident and Emergency department in the next five years, as well as reduce waiting times for anorexic teenagers and people experiencing psychosis for the first time.

When asked how his strategy was compatible with cuts to public services and welfare, Mr Cameron said that there was "no conflict".

The chief executive of the charity Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, told The Guardian, however, that, despite commendable intentions, plans to cut working benefits under a credit system in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would undo any positives. The Bill passed its fifth Committee sitting in the Lords on Tuesday.

"Unless the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is amended, the UK won’t even have a target for reducing income poverty," Ms Garnham said.

On Tuesday, the Work and Pensions Committee published a report opposing the Government’s decision to put councils in charge of distributing emergency welfare payments, because it could lead to a "postcode lottery". The report urged local and central government to take "joint responsibility" .

Significant cuts in council funding would mean that making emergency payments — for urgent needs such as food and heating — would be "a stretch too far" for most boroughs, the Local Government Association said.

A National Audit Office report suggests that four-fifths of councils in England "acted cautiously" with regard to future funding, and did not spend all their assigned welfare provision in 2013-14.


Homes to sell 'won't help the poor'

THE Prime Minister’s pledge this week to bulldoze the worst housing estates was "not the answer", Christian charities have said.

Mr Cameron said on Monday that "brutal high-rise towers" and "bleak" housing estates would be torn down or regenerated in an effort to crack down on drug abuse and gang culture.

His speech in north London came after an article in The Sunday Times at the weekend in which Mr Cameron promised to "get to grips with the deep social problems". He would start with dilapidated "sink estates", in which, he wrote, "poverty has become entrenched."

The Christian charity Housing Justice said that it did not agree with the plans for older housing estates. The chief executive, Alison Gelder, and director of projects, Alastair Murray, said: "We need to ensure that we maintain the housing that is currently being given to people on low incomes, and that’s an increasing number of people. . . Where are poorer families actually going to live?"

The £140-million regeneration programme, which includes the temporary rehousing of up to 100,000 residents, will be managed by Lord Heseltine, who supported regeneration in the Liverpool and London docks in the 1980s.

Ms Gelder said, in a separate statement, that she was "concerned" about the proposals, which ignored successful housing schemes that were still under way: "There is lots of other land for building new homes without destroying existing communities and ripping off leaseholders," she said.

Mr Cameron said that it was "not a coincidence" that most of those convicted after the London riots in 2011 lived on post-war council estates. "One of the most concerning aspects of these estates is just how cut off, self-governing, and divorced from the mainstream these communities can become," he wrote on Sunday. "The mission here is nothing short of social turnaround . . . together we can tear down anything that stands in our way."

The Christian group Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP), in Tottenham, said that mass demolition plans had "nothing to say about affordability". The founder of TAP, the Revd Paul Nicolson, said: "The free market has failed to provide affordable housing, rents are rising and will continue to do so, however many demolitions [Mr Cameron] promises. Some tenants in London receiving housing benefit are also paying a terrible price in the name of regeneration. Increasingly, publicly owned land is being taken over by developers."

Mr Cameron’s speech came a day before the Government’s housing Bill cleared its Third Reading in the Commons, on Tuesday. Labour warned that the Bill, which includes measures to sell off council homes and end the right to lifetime tenancies, could cost the UK nearly 200,000 council homes by 2020.

The Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey, said that the "extreme" Bill "fails young people and families", because the homes could be bought up by overseas investors and buy-to-let landlords.

The Government has said that the reforms will mean more homes to buy. The Bill seeks to commission 13,000 new homes and offer a £1.2-billion grant for private developers to clean up brownfield land and build 60,000 new homes for sale, half for buyers under 40.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said that the move was "tantamount to social cleansing".

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