Child poverty. We need to talk about this…

ralph berryBy Ralph Berry

As we head to the election, it is worth looking at how the much vaunted welfare reforms have affected the significant issue of Child Poverty. In a society that has become more unequal, the impact of the changes being talked up, like limiting welfare [which we should call Social Security] to two children and reducing further the benefits ‘cap’, talk of reducing child benefit further, builds upon the damage already done to children’s welfare from programmes that have promoted insecurity and fear. Schools tell us that many children are left short of food on school days and without proper uniform.

So 1500 Bradford children live in families hit by the benefits cap. The average weekly loss is around £50.00.

This is due to the impact of ’sanctioning’ benefits in Bradford; the sanctioning rate is extremely high, driven by targets set on DWP staff. Half the families sanctioned have children, the impact is severe, and exposes children to emotional upset, loss of security food and heat; a growth in food bank is one chilling reminder that this is now an issue in all communities.

Schools are increasingly dealing with cases of sever poverty especially where parents are sanctioned. It is worrying that there is little debate about this. Have we fallen for the idea these people, many of whom move in and out of benefits due to events like ill health, for them losing a job etc is seen as being responsible, in some way, for their own distress?

The Curry Circle in Bradford and other projects are increasingly seeing families with children, yet we are one of the wealthiest nations on earth.

One Bradford children’s centre described issuing 93 Trussel Foodbank vouchers and 32 Bradford Met food bank parcels last year.

The bedroom tax has still hit hard as there are no smaller properties to move down to. Families are told they have a bedroom to many to try and absorb the cost. It is leading to kids having to move schools, and more families in insecure housing. It is also breaking up the support for children who cannot now see their dads or spend time with grandparents. Many are now hit by the bedroom tax and this is dislocating families whose relatives are the key source of support.

2800 Bradford families are still hit by the bedroom tax that involves 2000 children.

Let’s be clear, over half of the 30,000 children in poverty live in families where there is work;  despite more people in  work , it’s not shifting the lives of children in a  low wage, zero hours culture ; that has to be changed.

Moves to promote the living wage, led by Bradford Council, are hugely important as this takes families out of that in work poverty. Other employers need to follow, and public contracts should insist on the living wage. Businesses in all sectors need to start looking at the impact of in work poverty and how people are still not even paying the minimum wage.

The impact of child poverty is very uneven Over 60% of pupils from some large BME communities live in areas that are in the 10% most deprived in the country, rising to over 90% for some BME communities.

The Churches and faith groups in Bradford have been working to minimise the impact and challenge the culture of scapegoating and blame.

In a City with a growing young population, and a wealthy nation, but one more and more unequal, we are risking some children growing up in entrenched poverty. That will cost us in the longer run, far more than the steps we could take to invest in family support and nurturing our children.

However, why is this not a big issue? Is it seriously the case that we think subjecting 1000’s of children to severe impoverishment and insecurity makes sense?

There is serious talk of capping the income of families who have more than three children; this must be one of the most malicious policies ever. Punishing families most of whom move in and out of social security, which is what it is there for, to protect. I am reminded of a   media howl when Bradford housed a large family, with nine children; it was a family that had taken in several children to avoid them going into care, which would cost far greater but that never made the news. Never mind deciding from above what a family should look like.

But most of all a child does not choose the manner of its birth…Are we really about creating generation of dispossessed children?

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