Levels of child poverty in England look set to continue rising under the Conservative’s plans for social security and could reach a 60-year high by the end of the next parliamentary term, experts have warned ahead of the general election next month (12th December 2019).
A new report published today (Tuesday) by the Resolution Foundation think tank finds that “unprecedented retrenchment of support has fallen almost entirely on low-to-middle income working-age families”.
While Labour’s pledge of an additional £9 billion in social security funding, including the scrapping of the two-child benefit limit, could see 550,000 children lifted out of poverty, the Tories’ manifesto pledges lack the necessary vision and spending commitments needed to address the rising problem.
Cruel and draconian Welfare cuts introduced since 2010 have resulted in vital financial support for vulnerable groups falling by around £34 billion a year in real-terms.
For example, the controversial benefit freeze, which both Labour and the Conservatives have pledged to end, “has left the average couple with kids in the bottom half of the income distribution £580 a year worse off, while the majority of the impact of the two-child limit on support for families is still to take effect”.
The report concludes that the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto “makes no changes to existing policy” and risks child poverty reaching a 60-year high of 34 per cent by 2023/24.
The Resolution Foundation says Labour’s £9bn worth of extra social security spending, including the scrapping of the two-child limit, would halt this rise.
However, they concede that although Labour has promised to end the benefits freeze and two-child limit they have not pledged to fully reverse the impact of these cuts, meaning this could “still see more children living in poverty in 2023 than do today”.
Large families, private renters and disabled people would be the the main beneficiaries under Labour’s plans, the Resolution Foundation says.
However, they add that “working-age families that fall outside these groups could still find themselves worse off under Labour compared to the UK’s pre-2015 social security system, due to the effects of the benefits freeze enduring.”
Laura Gardiner, Research Director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The modern welfare state has evolved over the past 70 years, and has changed dramatically over the past decade.
“Policy choices since 2010 have reduced the generosity of support for working-age families by £34 billion.
“Against the backdrop of major cuts, the parties’ manifestos do offer big choices on social security.
“Under the Conservatives little is set to change, and child poverty risks reaching a record high in the coming years.
“Labour and Liberal Democrat pledges to spend £9 billion more would mean child poverty being over 500,000 lower than under Conservative plans. However, this would not do enough to see child poverty fall from today’s already high levels.”
John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said: “Our reforms to social security, including scrapping Universal Credit, the Two-Child Limit and the Benefit Cap, will stop child poverty increasing, as this Report rightly acknowledges. But it fails to take account of Labour’s plans to tackle the root causes of child poverty.
“We will poverty-proof schools, introducing Free School Meals for all primary school children and tackling the cost of school uniforms. We will massively expand free childcare and open 1,000 new Sure Start centres.
“We will tackle the crisis of low pay by introducing a Real Living Wage of £10 an hour and giving public sector workers a five per cent pay rise, abolishing in-work poverty within a parliament.
“We will also guarantee a Right to Food to end the scandal of children and their families relying on food banks.
“We will ensure workers have full rights from day one and ban zero-hours contracts. We will build a million homes over a decade to tackle the housing crisis and rebuild our NHS after a decade of Tory neglect.
“The choice at this election is clear: record child poverty under the Tories or – with Labour – the strongest and widest fight against the root causes of child poverty for a generation.”
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: “We are committed to tackling child poverty and have made progress since we came into Government – with 730,000 fewer children in workless households.
“But we know that we must continue to make every effort on this issue and our manifesto sets out how we will use the tax and benefits system to do this.
“The Prime Minister has committed to giving every child in the country the opportunities to make the most of their talents.
“A Labour government won’t reduce poverty – it will spread it, by crashing the economy, leaving us all worse off.”