In Scotland today 220,000 children face a future shaped by poverty, despite the fact that two-thirds of them grow up in a home where at least one parent works.
For those children this can mean living in a cold and cramped home, falling behind in school, and not being able to join in activities with friends. That is why in the wake of Challenge Poverty Week, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that child poverty is not part of Scotland’s future.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that over this parliament we will witness the biggest increase in child poverty in a generation. So the time for action is now.
I am introducing a bill into the UK parliament to set an ambitious target to reverse this trend. It is my hope that it can realise a common purpose to tackle child poverty.
A new and binding target will build consensus for action and hold those in power to account for the impact of policy choices. I hope to work on a cross-party basis to share expertise and build pressure for action across communities, employers and civil society.
I am pleased to receive the backing of the Poverty Alliance. As their director Peter Kelly says, “Poverty affects all aspects of a child’s life chances. In order to tackle poverty we need meaningful targets and a proper reporting mechanism.”
The last Labour government’s record reminds us what can be achieved. Labour delivered the biggest improvement of any EU nation in lifting one million children out of poverty, transforming so many lives. We have a duty to this generation to make progress once again.
The UK government’s Autumn Statement in a month’s time is an opportunity to put children first and reverse the worsening trend. Planned changes to both taxes and benefits over the next four years will take more than one pound in every ten from the pockets of the poorest families. That is divisive and shortsighted, particularly with prices at the tills expected to rise.
Therefore the Chancellor should make a clear commitment to those who have been left behind by ending the freeze on working-age benefits. It is estimated that one in every five pounds of public spending is associated with poverty. As well as redirecting public spending, poverty worsens the key economic challenges we face. Poverty lowers productivity and limits spending power, undermining the strong economy we need for the future.
The Chancellor should also take the opportunity to make a cost-effective investment in all of our futures. The importance of a child’s early years in forming their life chances is well understood. A child born in a deprived area is likely to die nine years earlier than someone from a wealthier postcode. That is why intervention is crucial in those first years of life.
This approach recognises the link between children’s earliest years and their future life chances. The weight of expert opinion in favour of early intervention is overwhelming. So that must be our priority, because it is a smart investment for the future and it will change lives today.
Child poverty should scar our conscience as much as it does our children’s futures. It limits all of our potential because to succeed in the future we must create a country which makes the most of all our talents.
I look forward to engaging with Scottish charities and voluntary organisations in bringing my Private Member’s Bill to Parliament. I hope that it receives support from across political divides and we rediscover a cross-party consensus on child poverty. By doing so we can provide security, opportunity, and hope to those children who need it most. That is the cause of our times.
Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central