The government's new £7 billion 'fairness premium' funding package to help poor families will not adequately protect Britain’s most disadvantaged, says ecumenical charity Church Action on Poverty.
The package is intended to offset the impact of swingeing public spending cuts across the UK, and will provide 15 hours a week of free nursery education to two-year-olds from the poorest 20 per cent of families.
More support will be aimed at older children through a “pupil premium”. There will be a “student premium” for those in tertiary education.
But student leaders say that this is "wholly inadequate" and "a sticking plaster" in the face of massive incoming increases in student fees and living costs.
The 'fairness' strategy has been pushed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who is under pressure for his party's failure to stand up for the social justice commitments it made during the last General Election, prior to entering the coalition government as a junior partner to the Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.
Clegg says the poor can be protected as the government seeks to cut the national deficit far faster than many economists, including a former CEO of the World Bank, recommend.
But Liam Purcell from Church Action on Poverty says that while the ‘fairness premium’ would help some of the UK’s poorest and most disadvantaged children, "We fear that it will not be enough to counter the damage likely to be done to people and communities by the coming cuts in public spending.”
Purcell continues: “The impact of those cuts will be ten times greater for people in poverty than for the wealthy people who caused this economic crisis in the first place.”
Church Action on Poverty has called on the coalition government to ensure that the burden of the cuts “does not fall on those least able to bear it”.
“It will take more than this ‘premium’ to create a really fair society,” Purcell declared. “We hope all churches will join us in standing alongside the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.”
Progressive Christian groups have criticised the vagueness of the government's 'fairness' rhetoric, pointing out that it is no substitute for genuine, measurable justice - just as the 'big society' does not necessarily equate with the good society that benefits all, but especially the most vulnerable.
It is anticipated that the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October 2010 will detail cuts averaging 25 per cent across most government departments over five years.
More on Church Action on Poverty: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/ 
Also on Ekklesia: When 'fairness' falls short of social justice, by Jill Segger: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13328