AROUND 2.3 million children in the UK are in child poverty, with that figure rising by a further 400,000 Labour said.
The Tory coalition government unveiled their strategy to deal with the child poverty on Thursday, a strategy which claims to be able to ‘end child poverty by 2020’.
It lists a range of existing government policies to help children living in poverty, including childcare support, free school meals, fruit and vegetable vouchers, discounts on energy bills and increases in the threshold for paying income tax.
However Labour, teachers unions and the Child Poverty Action Group point to other Tory Coalition government policies like the Bedroom Tax and Universal Credit as contributing to the 2.3 million children in poverty in the UK.
They also highlight mass unemployment, low wages, the spiralling of the cost of living and high childcare costs as all contributing factors to the extremely high levels of child poverty.
The teachers unions also list over-crowded poor housing and the privatisation of education as adding to child poverty.
Meanwhile, a split in the coalition between the Tories and the Liberals is widening over how child poverty is defined.
Currently, a child is considered to be in poverty if he or she lives in a household where the total income is 60% of the national average.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: ‘Child poverty is set to rise by 400,000 under David Cameron’s government, while ministers squabble over the way poverty is defined.
‘The row between George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith does nothing to help working people who are £1,600 worse off a year because of the cost-of-living crisis.
‘If David Cameron was serious about cutting child poverty he would scrap the bedroom tax, introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee, strengthen the minimum wage, incentivise the living wage and extend free childcare for working parents.’
The National Union of Teachers says that although the Tory government claim that they want to eliminate the existence of child poverty, their own policies are in actual fact widening the gap in academic achievement between children from rich and poor backgrounds.
The NUT warns that the Tory Coalition’s policies of privatising state schools by turning them into Free Schools or Academies and the introduction of Performance-Related Pay for teachers are all ‘driving schools to compete’ which will ‘let down the most vulnerable learners’.
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, said: ‘Addressing the number of children in poverty in the UK should be a key government priority.
‘There is no defence for the number of children in the UK who go to bed hungry and wake up cold.
‘To claim teaching “quality” will be improved by introducing performance-related pay is nonsense.
‘There is no evidence that linking pay to performance increases results in schools.
‘There is evidence, however, that driving schools to compete will let down the most vulnerable learners.
‘Iain Duncan Smith’s pledges to raise qualification requirements for teachers.
‘This is at odds with current government policy which allows Free Schools and academies to employ non-qualified teachers and which promises new “early years teachers” who are not teachers.
‘Bringing down the barriers to learning for children in poverty matters to teachers.
‘Teachers are professionals with high expectations for every child in their class.
‘They want to widen their horizons and reduce structural inequalities in society.
‘The NUT will use the consultation on the new strategy to bring to the table teacher expertise about what education policies are the right and wrong ones for closing the gap.
‘Reducing the existence of child poverty in this nation is a target by which the government must be measured and judged’.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said that the ‘disappointing’ Tory Coalition government’s Child Poverty strategy proposals ‘need much greater ambition to reverse failures’ or the UK is headed for a ‘child poverty crisis’.
CPAG point to the core issues that need to be addressed to alleviate child poverty: ‘secure jobs, living wages, fair rents and affordable childcare’.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of CPAG, said: ‘After a long wait, we’re disappointed to see a list that contains little new, or likely to make a dent in the numbers of children growing up in poverty.
‘We can reduce child poverty under the existing measurement – we know this because other countries have much lower child poverty under the same measure.
‘If they can do better for their children, we can do better for British children too.
‘It will continue to be the measure by which independent experts hold the government to account.
‘Parents want secure jobs, living wages, fair rents and affordable childcare.
‘This should not be too much to ask in one of the world’s richest economies, yet these things remain out of reach for millions of families.
‘The draft strategy is weak in these essential areas with nothing to say on living wages and only limited investment in affordable homes.
‘Childcare and school costs are better areas, with the government understanding the importance of investment and the future returns it will bring.
‘We need this ambition to spread throughout the strategy.
‘At the heart of the strategy should be the promise that the growing economy will give more to those at the bottom than to those at the top.
‘This will need strong wage growth for the lowest paid, more job security and affordable rents, which means taking some tough decisions to stop those at the top running off with all the proceeds of growth.
‘We hope ministers listen to these concerns during the consultation and recognise that unless they take bold action we’re heading for a costly child poverty crisis – child poverty already costs Britain £29bn a year.’
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) highlights how the housing crisis is impacting on children and their education.
ATL criticises the Tory coalition for underestimating the role poverty has in ‘restricting the ability of children to learn’.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘While we welcome the consultation on the child poverty strategy, child poverty has long-lasting effects, not only impacting on achievement and GCSE grades, but also leaving children hungry, in poor and overcrowded housing and unable to take part in activities with their friends – all of which make it much harder to achieve the same education results as others.
‘Iain Duncan-Smith’s belief that education is a way out of poverty is mistaken. It is not that simple.
‘Teachers’ experience is that poverty restricts the ability of children to learn and research shows that schools can have only a limited effect on the achievement of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.’