Millions of children in Britain are being “failed by the system” and abandoned to a life of poverty, according to a new report released this week.
The figures show how far Gordon Brown is falling behind in his pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and to eliminate it altogether by 2020.
The research conducted for the Campaign to End Child Poverty found that more than a third of children live in low income or impoverished families. It showed that 5.5 million children are living in households with an income of less than £10 per person per day.
Behind the shocking figures is the reality of families living in poor housing, struggling to pay bills and to put food on the table.
Growing up in or on the brink of poverty seriously impacts on people’s health and life chances. A child in poverty is ten times more likely to die in infancy and five times more likely to be killed in an accident.
The economic crisis is hitting working people hard. With repossessions and unemployment on the rise, more families are likely to be forced into overcrowded and insecure housing.
According to the housing charity Shelter, one in seven children already grows up in overcrowded, dilapidated or temporary housing. These children are twice as likely to suffer from poor health.
Poverty also impacts on education. Children in poor housing are more likely to be bullied, miss school or be excluded from mainstream education.
New Labour says that the best way out of poverty is work.
Yet a shocking 57 percent of children below the poverty line live in households where at least one adult is in work. Low wages in Britain mean that nearly three million children live in families forced to rely on tax credits to top up their poverty pay.
One of the areas identified by the new report as having the highest levels of poverty is Easterhouse in Glasgow. Up to 98 percent of children there live in poverty or in families “struggling to get by” on low pay.
Bob Holman is a community activist who works in projects in Easterhouse. He has seen first hand the impact of the government’s failures.
He told Socialist Worker, “If the government is really tackling child poverty, why is it that so many children cannot afford to use any leisure facilities?
“Why is it that when our project takes children from Easterhouse on holiday, so many have to be subsidised?
“The real scandal is that the government has widened the gap between poor and rich families. It is inequality, not just poverty, that spells disaster.”
This inequality is starkly illustrated by a recent study by the World Health Organisation.
It showed that in some of the poorest areas of Glasgow children have a life expectancy that is 28 years less than that of those born into better off families only eight miles away.
This is not just a Scottish problem. Other areas identified with the highest concentrations of child poverty include Birmingham Ladywood and parts of east London – where pools of extreme poverty exist in the shadow of the City.
A coalition of campaigns, charities and trade unions are to march in London this Saturday to demand that Gordon Brown follows through on his promises.
At the recent Labour Party conference Brown repeated his commitment to eliminating child poverty.
However he warned, “The economic times are tough – of course that makes things harder – but we are in this for the long haul.”
But the “long haul” approach threatens to abandon a generation to poverty. The government’s own figures showed that the number of children in poverty rose by around 100,000 in each of the last two years.
Without action, the looming recession looks likely to make that worse.
Organisers of Saturday’s march are calling on the government to allocate £3 billion in tax credits and benefits in the next budget to tackle poverty.
This would be a start, but it is a damning indictment of Brown’s Britain that so many families have to rely on tax credits due to low pay.
There are many things Brown could do to tackle poverty, if he was willing to show the same “decisive action” he has demonstrated in bailing out the banks.
He could raise public sector pay, increase the minimum wage to a decent level and get rid of its lower rate for younger people, shift the burden of tax from the poor to the rich, link benefits and pensions to earnings, and build decent council housing.
Instead Brown seems intent on putting business and the banks first. We have to challenge the rule of the market in order to truly eliminate child poverty.
March against child poverty, Saturday 4 October. Assemble 11.30am, Millbank, near Lambeth Bridge, London, for a march to Trafalgar Square. For more go to » www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/keepthepromiseevent