Economic policy will push another 600,000 children into poverty

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Government economic policy and cuts to public services, including education, will push 600,000 more children into poverty by 2015, with lone parents among those hardest hit. Pete Henshaw reports.

The coalition government’s economic policies will result in 600,000 more children living in poverty in 2015, a study by the Children’s Commissioner for England has found.

The analysis of the cumulative effects of cuts in public spending and changes to the tax and benefits systems between 2010 and 2015 finds that the poorest children are being worst hit.

Furthermore, families with children have lost, on average, £41.07 a week since 2010, or 5.9 per cent of their income, as a result of government policies. Within this, lone parent families are being hit particularly hard, losing £32.67 a week – 7.8 per cent of their income.

Also hit hard are families with White parents and Asian families, which have lost slightly more on average than any other ethnic group. Families with disabled children suffer larger than average losses, too.

The report states: “The reforms are strongly regressive with low-income families with children losing more as a percentage of net income than high-income families.

“The poorest 10 per cent of families with children are experiencing average reductions in living standards equivalent to a fall of around 22 per cent in net income, while the richest 10 per cent of families with children have seen an equivalent fall in net incomes of only around seven per cent.”

The study, which has been carried out by independent economists, concludes that the income of families with children has been reduced by more than twice as much as similar families without children.

It says that while the number of children living in poverty in 2010/11 was 2.3 million, it expects this to rise to 2.9 million by 2015. 

It uses the official measure of child poverty – those living in families whose income (before housing costs) is less than 60 per cent of the median.

By 2015/16, the study says there will have been £61 billion in spending cuts to services, excluding the social security budget. This includes £5.5 billion from schools, £7.5 billion from further and higher education, £0.9 billion from early years, and £1 billion from health.

The report states: “Although the budget for schools has been ring-fenced, there have been substantial cuts in overall spending on education, with the biggest cuts falling on further and higher education, and significant reductions in capital budgets for schools, and in budgets for support services to schools.”

The report quotes research by the Family and Parenting Institute involving eight local authorities which reported “significant cuts” to support services for children, young people and families. 

It found: “Services to schools (school improvement, curriculum support, education welfare, behaviour support, school transport) accounted for around 30 per cent of cuts to children’s services.”

The report states: “Overall, a complex picture emerges, with considerable variation both in the overall cuts experienced by different authorities and in how each authority is responding. Many local authorities have increased (or at least maintained) expenditure on child protection, but many have made significant reductions in prevention work, in support services to schools, and youth service provision.

“While it is likely that the ring-fence on health spending and the partial ring-fence on schools spending will remain in place, these measures relate to overall departmental spending only in the face of a growing elderly and school population, with no indications of any measures to try to safeguard services for the most vulnerable, or to increase the protection for children – particularly the most disadvantaged – from the impact of cuts.”

The report adds that, overall, the average value of the public services that have been lost by lone parents is just over £1,500, while for couples with children it is around £2,000.

The research also details the impact of changes to the benefits and tax systems, which it says have combined to hit poorer families.

It states: “Overall families with children in the poorest 10 per cent of the population are losing an average of £40 per week ... with families in the second and third deciles (lowest 20 and 30 per cent) losing an average of £30 per week. Losses of this magnitude represent a very serious reduction in income when the poorest families with children live off approximately £370 per week.”

The report acknowledges that the new Universal Credit, which comes into force in 2015/16 and combines different forms of income-related support, including Child Tax Credits, “will go some way to offsetting the negative effects for some families”, but adds that it “will not cancel all the losses that families have experienced since 2010”.

Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson said: “The (report) is the most comprehensive and accurate analysis we have to date on what exactly is happening to the poorest and some of the most vulnerable members of society. It makes uncomfortable reading: they are getting progressively worse off and more children are entering poverty. That means more children going without the basics because their parents and carers cannot afford them.”

Commenting on the report, Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said the government must “urgently review” the impact of its welfare reforms on children. He added: “Not only does this mean that many more families will struggle to put food on the table, or clothe their children, it also raises serious questions about whether the government is fulfilling its legal and moral obligations to ensure children have an adequate standard of living and are supported to thrive and fulfil their potential.”

 


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