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Based on analysis of the UK government's own Households below average income (HBAI) survey published on 28 January 2014 (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/households-below-average-incom...), the Children's Society estimates that 3.5 million children in Britain and Northern Ireland are living in poverty today.
By 2020, an estimated three quarters of a million more children will be living in poverty than today according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies study (J Browne, A Hood, R Joyce, 2014).
This is a scandal by any measure, and one which successive UK budgets have done little to address. Indeed, in the 2014 one, an arbitrary cap to welfare spending which takes no account of changing circumstances of families caught up in poverty will leave them facing rising living costs beyond their control, including childcare and rocketing rents.
"The government is effectively transferring the risk of rising costs to children and families already struggling to make ends meet,” commented Children’s Society CEO Matthew Reed (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20294).
The charity is therefore supporting the first-ever Children’s Commission on Poverty. On 21 February 2014, ten of the young commissioners met government officials from the Child Poverty Unit to raise their concerns over child poverty in the UK and action they want taken.
The commissioners want the government to draw on children’s actual experience – and not just the statistics – when developing measures to tackle child poverty. The Children’s Commission on Poverty is being supported by The Children’s Society and led by a panel of 16 children and teenagers from across England, ranging in age from 12 to 19. They are leading an 18-month investigation into child poverty in the UK. It provides a crucial platform for children to speak out about what poverty is really like and reveal, through their own eyes, the day-to-day challenges they face and what needs to be done.
The Children’s Society (www.childrenssociety.org.uk) wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. It is committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. It seeks to give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through its campaigns and research, it seeks to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.
Someone who acts on their behalf and can help guide them through the extremely complex system. These children deserve to be kept safe so they can recover from the trauma they have suffered and rebuild their lives, says the charity, which originated as a church initiative but works with children and families irrespective of social, religious or cultural background.
Interested parties can follow the new twitter feed @childsocpol for updates, comment and debate on our policy, public affairs and campaigning work. Ekklesia is pleased to be able to work with the Children's Society from time to time, particularly in its work with churches.
Turning north of the border, the latest independent forecasts by the IFS suggest that the percentage of Scotland's children living in poverty will increase from 19.6 per cent in 2011/12 to 26.2 per cent in 2020 (PDF document http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn144.pdf ). The Scottish Government published its own child poverty strategy on 10 March 2014, going further than the UK, but with significant scope for development.
Responding to its launch by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland commented: “The focus of the strategy on maximising family resources and improving children’s wellbeing is welcome as is the increased attention paid to tackling the damaging ‘attainment gap’ that means children growing up in poverty too often get less out of our education system than their better off peers.
"It’s vital that that these ambitions now lead to increased action at every level of government and across our public services and labour market.
"The strategy must be backed up by a clear delivery plan setting out exactly who is going to do what, and by when, with a clear framework for measuring success and a mechanism to hold every arm of government to account for the progress made. The one in five children in Scotland whose lives are being undermined by poverty deserve nothing less.”
CPAG in Scotland is a leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in Scotland and across the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children.
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbarrowTweet