The government must make sure they prioritise children

by Kate Green

UNICEF’s Report Card 9 shows that, in comparison to other developed countries, it is material inequality that let’s UK children down.

UK levels of income poverty push the most disadvantaged children further behind compared to similar countries, such as France and Germany.  That’s deeply unfair to children growing up in this country, it’s a waste of children’s potential, and it damages all of us. Inequality between children affects everyone: through costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.

UNICEF is calling for ambitious action by the government on income poverty in the forthcoming child poverty strategy, and to ensure that children living in poverty do not pay the price for reducing the deficit. But cuts to family incomes and to the public services that families rely on threaten to damage children’s wellbeing and outcomes.

Ministers say their spending plans won’t increase child poverty over the spending review period, but that’s hardly an ambitious statement from a government that’s supposed to be signed up to the target in the Child Poverty Act to reduce child poverty to 10% by 2020.

We can’t afford for progress to stall now: despite Labour’s investment in tax credits, child benefit and helping more parents into employment, we’re already behind target. Cuts to housing benefit, to child benefit, and to help with childcare costs will put families under more strain. Ministers need to show much greater determination and ambition to put families and children first.

The report particularly highlights what we already know, that “full time employment no longer guarantees a life lived above the poverty line”. UNICEF UK is calling for the Government to promote a living wage, and I totally support that call.

Iain Duncan Smith claims his universal credit will help to make even a few hours of work pay, but there’s a huge amount of detail to be filled in about his plans, and analysts are already worried that for some families, marginal deduction rates, as people move into or increase their hours of work, will become even steeper than now.

What’s also striking in the report is that although government spending has prevented many children from falling into poverty, the UK has a particularly high level of inequality in access to basic educational resources at home. Only Greece and Slovakia do worse.  This is an important explanation for why inequalities between children continue through their school years – and why investment in what happens in schools has to be matched by investment in support for families.

Some countries – Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland – are addressing bottom-end inequality in child well-being better than others, and I want to see the UK moving up the league table so that inequalities in child well-being here are as small as in those countries that do the best.  Investing in our children – our future – is surely the true deficit reduction strategy the government should prioritise.

Kate Green is the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston

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