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Labour’s Vision for Government Must Include a Serious Child Poverty Strategy 

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poverty

Kim Johnson MP

Member of Parliament for Liverpool Riverside

 Kim Johnson MP discusses the importance of tackling child poverty, with a particular focus on lifting the two-child cap on child benefit.

The Labour Party conference showed a party on the brink of government, full of confidence for the future. I was proud to host it in my constituency and welcome members to Liverpool, the best city in the world. It was great to speak to delegates from across the country at our Liverpool Riverside stall, and to have so many show solidarity with our great city by taking pictures with our ‘Don’t Buy the S*n’ banner. 

Thousands of members gathered together to debate and organise creating a manifesto fit for government. We heard from the leadership and shadow ministers about plans to strengthen workers’ rights with the bold new deal for workers. Members voted overwhelmingly for radical motions to bring energy back into public ownership. 

What was missing was a serious plan to tackle child poverty. 

Keir’s broad visions for housing, energy, health, policing, and education were put forward, with promises to fund them through economic growth. Unfortunately, this prevented motions promoting key policies, such as universal free school meals and lifting the cruel two-child benefits cap, from reaching the floor. This was a great disappointment to many members of child poverty organisations and to our country, which is suffering from 13 years of austerity and a crippling cost-of-living crisis. 

The scale of the child poverty crisis 

It’s unacceptable that the poorest children in the fifth richest economy in the world are going hungry, unable to concentrate or learn to their full potential. We are seeing a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as malnutrition, rickets, and scarlet fever. In Liverpool, 1 in 3 children are going hungry. Families who appeared to be coping even just a few months ago are clearly struggling now. 

Recent research by the Child Poverty Action Group reveals that 8 in 10 school staff are now being diverted from their job by child poverty. More than half of teachers have given clothes or food to pupils. Most heads have seen a rise in pupils who cannot afford lunch. It is now a regular sight for schools to be running food banks and second-hand uniform sales.   

When asked which policies would have the biggest effect on reducing child poverty in their school, 80 per cent said universal free school meals. We’ve seen incredible results in the local authorities where this has been rolled out, with London, Wales, and Scotland rolling them out for all primary school children. Yet children right here in Liverpool, living in some of the most deprived wards in the country, are not provided with the basic fuel they need to learn, just because of where they live. 

In my own constituency of Liverpool Riverside, 11 children in a class of 30 are living in poverty. Of the 1400 children in households in receipt of Universal Credit, 440 of them are not eligible for extra support as a result of the two-child cap on benefits. 

1.3 million children across this country are currently losing out under this cap, with their families losing on average £3,235 directly out of their pockets. This limitation is as cruel as it is ineffective, leaving larger families struggling. 

So what should Labour do? 

We know that lifting the cap would immediately lift a quarter of a million children out of poverty, and a further 850,000 children would be raised out of deep poverty. Child poverty campaigners say lifting the cap would be the single most effective intervention to immediately tackle child poverty. 

Poverty is a political choice, and there is a simple fix. Tax profits and wealth and enhance workers’ rights so that working pays enough to live and raise a family on. That way, we can ensure that not a single child in this country goes hungry, and no child gets left behind. 

The last time Labour was this close to government, we came to power in 1997 on a bold platform to eradicate child poverty. Blair rolled out Sure Start centres across the country, I worked on this project and saw first-hand the benefits of a cradle-to-grave service that provides easy access to integrated services for the most disadvantaged communities.  

All too often, the impact of growing up in poverty is life-long. We need a Labour government that will come to power on the promise of prioritising tackling child poverty as its number one priority. While current commitments to tackling the digital divide, rolling out universal free breakfast clubs, and reforming Universal Credit are positive, these do not go nearly far enough. As we head towards a general election, I will continue to fight for Labour to put forward a bold strategy to eradicate child poverty.  

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